The Key to a World without Nuclear Weapons

Special series: ICAN wins the Nobel Peace Prize, Part 3

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

Power of young people engages the world

The Twitter account for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an international non-governmental organization (NGO), has about 20,000 followers. On June 15, when the talks to establish the nuclear weapons ban treaty began their second round, a photo from Hiroshima was posted on its Twitter feed. The photo showed the message “BAN NUKES NOW!”, which was created in candles by about 200 people, including Hiroshima citizens and A-bomb survivors, in front of the A-bomb Dome that evening.

The Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA), one of the groups that organized the event, sent the photo to Tim Wright, 32, one of ICAN’s young leaders and a friend of HANWA members. The photo went viral on Twitter after it was posted by Mr. Wright and his colleagues on their own accounts, too. In this way, voices from Hiroshima, the A-bombed city, could help fuel momentum for establishing the treaty. ICAN has put concerted effort into sending out messages via social networking sites.

“The prize was a wonderful decision because it recognized the fact that the power of young people led civil society in realizing the nuclear weapons ban treaty,” said Haruko Moritaki, 78, the co-chair of HANWA. While Ms. Moritaki was delighted that ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she again underscored the challenges now facing the traditional antinuclear and peace movement.

Urgent task includes developing human resources

The average age of the A-bomb survivors, who have been the pillars of this movement, has now exceeded 81. It is therefore an urgent task to develop human resources so that the survivors’ memories of the atomic bombings can continue to be handed down, and take action to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons. Ms. Moritaki shared her hopes by saying, “I think it’s important for both government and civilian groups to broaden their ways of thinking. I wish more young people would see ICAN’s activities as cool and show an interest in the antinuclear and peace movement.”

Joined by 468 groups from 101 nations, ICAN has been pursuing global efforts for nuclear abolition. Though one of ICAN’s partner organizations, an antinuclear group, was a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in the past, ICAN itself has a mere 10-year history. The organization’s achievements have been aided, in part, by NGOs and experts that have been engaged in antinuclear activities for a long time.

An example of one such group is the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), which is based in three nations, including the United States. The group has argued that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal based on international humanitarian law. When ICAN formulated the message that “Since nuclear weapons are not currently prohibited by treaty, like landmines and cluster munitions, a treaty should be established to define them as illegal,” IALANA felt that this simplified message could be used in an underhanded way by the nuclear weapon states, who might advocate the idea that nuclear weapons would remain legal as long as countries chose not to take part in the treaty. The groups engaged in discussion and reached out to the nations concerned. It was then clearly stated in the nuclear weapons ban treaty that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to current law.

Backed by scientists and others

Negotiations to establish the treaty were backed not only by ICAN but by scientists, heads of local governments, and various segments of civil society. The partnership between ICAN and citizens of the A-bombed nation contributed to the fact that the word “hibakusha” (victims resulting from the development or use of nuclear weapons) was incorporated into the preamble of the treaty.

In March, prior to the start of negotiations for the nuclear weapons ban treaty, a gathering of citizens and A-bomb survivors took place in Tokyo. Toshinori Yamada, an IALANA board member and a lecturer at Meiji University, said at the meeting that the treaty should create a new norm. The participants enthusiastically agreed and vowed to make efforts toward that end. Toshiki Fujimori, 73, the assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo (the Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers Organizations) who had been at the meeting that day, then delivered a speech on the first day of negotiations for the treaty, calling on the participants to take the appeal of “No more hibakusha” seriously. Some nations, like Austria, the nation that vice chaired the treaty talks, echoed this sentiment. Mr. Yamada said, “It’s very encouraging that ICAN, as a representative of civil society, including the A-bomb survivors, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

However, when the prize winner was announced on October 6, the Norwegian Nobel Committee voiced a warning, too, saying that an international legal prohibition on nuclear arms would not, in itself, eliminate a single nuclear weapon. Thus, what should be done to sway the attitudes of the anti-treaty nuclear nations and Japan, which is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella? While filled with joy over receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, civil society must now mull its next steps to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on October 9, 2017)