The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) in Oslo this weekend. The decision is an unprecedented step towards bringing the concept of a nuclear weapons-free world into mainstream political thought, and, more importantly, offers the hope of action.
As the threat of nuclear war escalates into a realistic possibility on the Korean Peninsula, with reckless brinksmanship from the US President confronting an authoritarian dictator obsessed with his country’s provocative and offensive nuclear capabilities, the spotlight is turning to non-proliferation.
Ican’s work towards real change is symbolised by the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, signed by 122 countries on 7 July. While supporting the treaty does not mean putting the defence of the UK at risk, the Labour Party has made clear that it takes international peace and stability extremely seriously. The current British Government’s decision to boycott the treaty was irresponsible and exemplified the lack of leadership which the Government has displayed around the world – whether in its shambolic negotiation of a Brexit deal, the Foreign Secretary’s reckless comments risking Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prison sentence being doubled in Iran, or in Yemen, where the Government has consistently failed to confront Saudi Arabia on its blockade of humanitarian aid entering that country.
Just as other UN treaties for chemical weapons and landmines have proven effective, Ican’s work towards the total abolition of nuclear weapons can be equally vital to the future standards of global conflict. Use of cluster bombs, landmines and lethal chemicals in war are now rightly regarded by all signatory states – and their electorates – as criminal. You do not have to be a pacifist to support the work of Ican and the organisation’s recognition as the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. On the contrary, promoting peace and mediation initiatives, through international and legally binding authorities such as the UN, goes hand in hand with the interests of our own country’s security.
The recognition of Ican as a legitimate promoter of worldwide peace presents a unique opportunity for Britain truly to embrace multilateral disarmament and to lead the international community on nuclear non-proliferation. This is why Labour stands with Ican in taking its diplomatic efforts very seriously.
The British Government has tried to suggest that the UN Nuclear Weapons Treaty would negate the existing Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory. This is certainly not the case. Article Six of the Non-Proliferation Treaty explicitly states that signatories "undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament,” and goes on to emphasise the ultimate aim of “a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".
The fact remains that nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to any realistic ban, whereas the ban on other catastrophic weapons is supported by the UN Security Council – the same body which snubbed the vote on the UN Ban Treaty, where it should have led by example to promote a truly peaceful world.
While atomic weapons have only been used twice in history, they still managed to immediately claim the lives of over 225,000 people. Modern nuclear weaponry is able to wipe out cities at one fell swoop, causing catastrophic harm to millions of people and severely disrupting the earth’s atmospheric climate.
Ican rightly takes the common sense, humanitarian approach to these potentially catastrophic weapons. We all, as humans, depend upon our societies and our environment to ensure stability, both as citizens of a country and as members of a global community. Therefore, the Nobel Peace Prize is rightly being awarded to Ican for its work in showing the international community that nuclear weapons do not distinguish between military and civilian targets. With the current, unpredictable and largely irrational leadership across the world, Ican’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons-free world is more important now than ever.
I hope that all the nuclear nations of the world can get behind Ican’s initiative now and help us to create a nuclear-free world safe for humanity.
Fabian Hamilton is shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament. Ican's 24 partner organisations in the UK include CND and Article 36
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