An anti-nuclear weapons campaign group that highlighted “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” was named the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was cited for its focus on addressing the gap in international law with regards to restricting nuclear weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.
A recent success ICAN was part of was the campaign for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, approved by the UN with a vote of 122-1 in July.
The Nobel award announcement comes amid rising tensions fuelled by recent nuclear tests by North Korea and inflammatory reactions from US President Donald Trump.
“The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more,” Beatrice Fihn, ICAN executive director said in Geneva, where the coalition of 468 non-governmental organizations from 101 different countries has its headquarters.
She added that nuclear threats were illegal under the new international nuclear weapons ban treaty, adding that “North Korea and the United States should respect that.”
On learning of the award, Fihn said: “We were shocked, then there were giggles, and we thought for a moment it was a prank.”
Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa formed the core group of countries that pushed the ban treaty negotiations forward.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that ICAN’s lobbying work was essential to concluding the pact.
“ICAN is a great example for how civil society can achieve great things on an international scale by standing up for a good cause,” he said in a statement.
In the run-up to Friday’s announcement, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – in which Tehran agreed to undergo inspections in exchange for lifting sanctions – had featured as a possible contender.
That deal has been roundly criticized by President Trump, but Fihn said it proves the benefit of negotiations.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was deeply involved in the Iran talks, said the award for ICAN “makes strongly the case for non-proliferation and disarmament.”
The Nobel Committee also emphasized that ICAN’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize should encourage states with nuclear weapons to consider their responsibilities to disarm.
About 50 countries, including members of NATO such as nuclear powers like the United States, Britain and France, as well as China and Russia, are not part of the UN treaty.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the defence alliance shares ICAN’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons but cautioned that it might undermine progress on disarmament.
“The Nuclear Ban Treaty does not move us closer to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In fact, it risks undermining the progress we have made over the years in disarmament and non-proliferation,” he said.
Stoltenberg added that a “verifiable and balanced reduction of nuclear weapons” was needed, noting that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, whose country is member of NATO, congratulated ICAN, but said Oslo would not sign on to the UN treaty.
“We will not support proposals that weaken NATO,” she told reporters, noting that other countries have nuclear weapons.
The Nobel Committee noted that bans already exist against land mines, cluster munitions and biological and chemical weapons.
“We are not kicking anybody’s leg with this prize, we are giving great encouragement and we also want to help ICAN to focus on the extremely serious problem that the world is facing,” Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said.
“People of the world do not want to be defended by nuclear weapons,” Reiss-Andersen said.
Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said the award was “a very appropriate choice because it focuses attention on an important issue that, having been more or less forgotten for many years, is now rising up the international political agenda again.”
This year the Norwegian Nobel Committee considered 318 nominations comprising 215 individuals and 103 organizations – the second-highest tally to date.
Nominations are sealed for 50 years, adding to the difficulty of predicting the five-strong Oslo-based committee’s selections.
Last year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded for his efforts to end his country’s decades-long civil war.
Nobel prizes this year have been awarded in the fields of medicine or physiology, physics, chemistry, and literature. Economics is due Monday, rounding off the annual award announcements.
Each prize is worth 9 million kronor (1.1 million dollars).
With the exception of economics, the prizes were endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-96), the inventor of dynamite.