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Anti-nuclear arms group wins Nobel Peace Prize

Danger of waris rising, awardcommittee says

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Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons arrives for a news conference at the group’s headquarters in Geneva.

Associated press Enlarge

OSLO — An international group dedicated to seeking a global ban on nuclear weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, given the award by a Nobel Committee that said the risk of nuclear war is growing.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was honored for its work to foster a global ban on the weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

The civil-society movement was behind a successful push this summer for a U.N. treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. It promotes nuclear disarmament around the world.

The award comes amid rising global concern about a potential nuclear conflagration. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has hurled threats of nuclear missile strikes against the United States, and President Trump has warned he could “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. The exchanges have raised fears among many global leaders that a miscalculation could end in conflict.

Separately, Mr. Trump plans next week to “decertify” Iran’s compliance with an international agreement that limits its nuclear program, a step that European allies worry could lead to nuclear proliferation.

“The risk of nuclear war has grown exceptionally in the last few years, and that’s why it makes this treaty and us receiving this award so important,” said Beatrice Fihn, the Swedish executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN.

“We do not have to accept this [risk],” she said.

ICAN recognizes that nuclear weapons will not disappear any time soon. 

But Ms. Fihn said a ban is still a realistic long-term goal, similar to the way an international taboo was created around the use of chemical weapons.

“Keeping nuclear weapons legal isn’t going to help things,” she said.

The decade-old Geneva-based coalition, which was modeled on international efforts to ban land mines, has branches in more than 100 countries.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved by two-thirds of U.N. members in July.

It has not attracted support from any of the world’s nine nuclear powers, which together possess nearly 15,000 atomic weapons. The United States and others boycotted the U.N. discussions that led to the treaty.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said at the time that “we have to be realistic” about the nuclear threat of rogue nations such as North Korea, and she warned that the ban could actually increase the risk of nuclear war, not reduce it.

After the Nobel Peace Prize announcement on Friday, nuclear powers around the world repeated their opposition to efforts to ban the weapons. 

“The Nuclear Ban Treaty does not move us closer to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “In fact, it risks undermining the progress we have made over the years in disarmament and non-proliferation.”

The White House and leaders of other nuclear powers have instead endorsed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which limits but does not ban the weapons. 

Russia and the United States hold the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Signatories to the prohibition treaty would be banned from developing, testing, and possessing nuclear weapons, as well as threatening to use them. 

The treaty will go into effect once 50 nations ratify it. Guyana, Thailand and the Vatican were the first three to do so.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized ICAN for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen said as she announced the prize in Oslo.

“There is a popular belief among people all over the world that the world has become a more dangerous, and that there is a tendency where we experience that the threats of nuclear conflict have come closer,” she said. 

ICAN has been successful in “engaging people in the world who are scared of the fact that they are supposed to be protected by atomic weapons,” she said.

The Nobel committee said it chose to honor ICAN because of the group’s concrete success in pushing the treaty forward. 

Anti-nuclear campaigners say they recognize the challenge of persuading nuclear powers to agree to give up their weapons.

But the advocates believe the treaty creates an international norm that will eventually pressure nuclear-armed countries into compliance, even if they never formally sign on, said Rebecca Johnson, executive director of Britain’s Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

“Nuclear weapons became a tool for weak leaders to take shortcuts instead of providing their own people with safety, security and food,” said Ms. Johnson, a founding co-chairman of ICAN. 

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