The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to a nuclear disarmament group could not come at a more appropriate time, as the world is now fretting over nuclear crises involving countries like North Korea and Iran.
In particular, the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations and the consequent confrontation between the North and the US has stoked fears of a war and possible nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia. There is already talk of nuclear armament in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
Norwegian Nobel committee president Berit Reiss-Andersen made it clear that the current situation encouraged it to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time,” she said.
The Geneva-based ICAN, founded in 2007, is a coalition of hundreds of NGOs in more than 100 countries whose goal is banning nuclear weapons through an international treaty. It played a key role in the adoption of a historic nuclear weapons ban treaty, signed by 122 countries. But it failed to draw any of the nine known nuclear powers to it.
North Korea, which conducted its sixth nuclear bomb test last month, is one of the nine, which includes the five original powers -- the US, Russia, China, France and Britain -- and India, Pakistan and Israel.
It was right for ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, responding to the Nobel committee’s announcement, to emphasize the need to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear arms program and its standoff with the US and the international community.
There is no doubt that Kim should bear the prime responsibility as he created the crisis by continuing to build up its nuclear and missile capability. But what’s notable is that the ICAN chief also expressed a critical view of US President Donald Trump.
“I think that the election of President Donald Trump has made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with the fact that he alone can authorize the use of nuclear weapons and there’s nothing people can do to stop him,” Beatrice Fihn said.
“There is no one who we can trust with the ability to destroy the entire world,” she said.
By now, the whole world knows what kind of person Trump is, and it is true that he often reacts to the world’s important issues impulsively and unpredictably. Few expect him to resort to use of nuclear weapons as the ICAN chief worries, but when it comes to less devastating military force, it may be a different story.
In fact, Trump from time to time escalated the tension with the North with indications that he would take military action, to which Kim and his propaganda apparatus responded with yet tougher statements and threats of a nuclear attack. Trump is also threatening to bin the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
One day after the Nobel committee’s announcement to award the 2017 peace prize, Trump resorted to his usual vague, yet menacing rhetoric, this time mentioning the “calm before the storm.” He indicated the storm could be a military option, but he only said “you’ll find out” when a reporter asked which he was mentioning among North Korea, Iran or IS.
But the ICAN chief’s message and the underlying cause of the Nobel committee to cite the activist group’s work are to resolve the nonproliferation issue in a peaceful and diplomatic way. Sanctions and pressure should be the means to bring countries like North Korea and Iran to the negotiation table, not a means to destroy them.
The whole world should support ICAN’s ultimate goal to remove all nuclear arsenals in the world, including those possessed by the members of the original nuclear club. That, of course, should be preceded by getting rid of nuclear weapons programs in countries like North Korea and Iran.
Equally important is that the task, however tough it may be, should be achieved without military conflict, not least a nuclear war. That is the spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize and ICAN.