By David C. Hall
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”
This award comes as a welcome surprise for those of us pleading with world leaders to heed the humanitarian call to never allow these weapons to ever be used again.
ICAN is the global extension of the campaign I have worked on since 1983, Physicians for Social Responsibility. PSR is the US affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which in 2007 convened the ICAN coalition. I have vivid memories of times with Dr. Bernie Lown, co-founder of international group, and more recently served on the U.S. affiliate’s board with Dr. Ira Helfand, who is now one of four co-presidents of IPPNW.
“There is no cure for nuclear war, only prevention.” This is the core message from the international physicians group and ICAN.
The ICAN coalition worked with non-nuclear weapon states in the United Nations General Assembly through three U.N. conferences on the humanitarian impacts of the use of nuclear weapons, followed by a U.N. working group to draft a treaty. In the final vote 122 U.N. states approved the treaty language. Only the Netherlands, a member of NATO, voted against it.
The U.N.’s International Court of Justice in 1996 ruled unanimously (including the American judge) that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons “would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.” However, this ruling was not binding on anyone. This treaty will bind its signatory states. The U.S., Britain and France stated during deliberations for this treaty that they would never sign it despite a clear path laid out for nuclear-weapon states to join.
The U.S. Congress has already authorized an estimated $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the next 30 years. This has Russia, China and North Korea on edge and looking to rebuild their own nuclear arsenals. Meanwhile U.S. nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert.
Our 2nd District congressman, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, is a truly committed American citizen at the center of federal decision-making about American security in a dangerous world. We need to support him in working to persuade the international community to abandon this suicidal game of nuclear chicken.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons already has the required number of nations signed on to bring the treaty into force after formal ratifications are complete. It places us in a new chapter of global efforts to manage international conflicts without the threat of global catastrophe.
Most U.S. citizens and many military planners still fail to understand the crimes against humanity that will follow any use of a nuclear weapon. In 1945 one small nuclear weapon destroyed Hiroshima as completely as Tokyo was destroyed five months earlier by 1,665 conventional bombs dropped by 279 B-29 bombers. Each of our eight local Trident submarines is built to carry the equivalent of more 5,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs on ballistic missiles with accuracy from a distance of 4,000 miles.
We of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, members of the ICAN coalition, will continue to work for abolition. We hope that saner minds in nuclear weapon states will prevent the use of these weapons while informed citizens and leaders worldwide work out the mutual security agreements that will allow their elimination.
Dr. David C. Hall is past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. He lives on Lopez Island.