By Jerry Alatalo
*Einstein on the atomic bomb, Atlantic Monthly, November 1945
“The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one … I do not believe that civilization will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb. Perhaps two-thirds of the people of the Earth will be killed …”
– ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955) German-born, Swiss-American scientist
(*The quote was from 1945. Nuclear weapons in 2017, by contrast, hold many multiples greater destructive force.)
t a press conference in the United Nations, members of Nobel Peace Prize 2017 recipients International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons addressed the challenge of convincing the nine (9) nuclear-armed nations and other states to join the new global BAN Treaty. After short introductory remarks, the press conference moved to questions and answers for reporters. The transcript for Q+A session follows.
Question #1 from reporter:
I asked the U.S. ambassador on Friday about this win, and what it means for the Ban Treaty. And he told me it will have no practical impact on nuclear disarmament, it will not reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles by one single weapon. So how do you counteract this argument, and what does the Nobel price Peace Prize win give to you in terms of moving forward on this agenda? And how will you change the minds of the other P-5 (nations), and especially what will you do with umbrella nations like Japan? How can you hook into this and change things? Thank you.
Response from ICAN members:
Thank you very much. Well, it’s quite expected that they would say that, and this is something we’ve heard from the beginning.. “The humanitarian consequences, this doesn’t matter; the work of all these other states doesn’t matter; civil society, it doesn’t matter …” Clearly it matters, and I think that their protests against this shows that it does have an impact on them. But frankly, of course, a Nobel Peace Prize isn’t going to make Trump give up nuclear weapons. But we … I don’t think that’s really what we’re doing here. What we’re trying to do is make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the mindsets of people, and that’s where civil society has the power. That’s really what is changing things, and in the end governments have to do what their people say. This gives us an enormous opportunity to reach out to new audiences and to mobilize people once again.
For quite a long time nuclear weapons have been seen as an issue of the past, something that is no longer relevant … and developments recently. that started a few years ago with the potential new nuclear arms race, all the nuclear armed states modernizing, and these direct threats of using nuclear weapons causing potential catastrophic humanitarian disasters. Slaughtering in hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The threatening makes this an urgent issue again, and I think that this Nobel Peace Prize can really bring about a much bigger movement against nuclear weapons. I think we also have to remember that in times of big crisis, as before, have you also made the most progress. It was after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the treaty was negotiated, and later also the NPT. It was still in the 80s between the huge tensions between the United States and Soviet that the Reykjavik meeting happened, and the whole nuclear freeze movement produced real results. So I think that these great crises also brings about public mobilization. I think that’s where this Peace Prize is extremely timely, and very urgently needed attention on this issue.
Just to add quickly to what Beatrice said, I think also when we approached this treaty in the very beginning with our government partners the idea was always that it would have a normative effect, a legal effect, a political effect and an economic effect, and we’re going to see that happen over time. Of course nothing will happen immediately; nuclear weapons aren’t just going to magically disappear. But what’s gonna happen over time is what we’ve seen happen with for example land mines or cluster munitions, which have been banned now for some time. And what we’re seeing is even countries that initially objected to the negotiation of those treaties have joined, and even those that haven’t since joined are still more or less abiding by their provisions, and coming every year more and more in compliance with those treaties even if they haven’t actually joined on to them officially.
So I think that we will see those types of impacts happen over the years, and I think also the economic side of this is going to be very significant. There’s already divestment campaigns underway, where banks and other financial institutions are withdrawing money from nuclear weapon producers, and I think that the Nobel Peace Prize going to ICAN is going to really get the word out about campaigns like that and other initiatives that people around the world can do themselves to contribute to nuclear disarmament.
I think if I just can add from a member states perspective is that we didn’t have any illusion that the nuclear weapon states would join from day one, and, but what we really believe is that this treaty is filling a legal gap and is able to de-legitimize and even stigmatize the last weapon of mass destruction which is still on Earth not outlawed. No, not one of these prohibition treaties was, was universal from the very beginning; not even the non-proliferation treaty was universal, and I always like to remind nuclear weapon states who now say that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the only agreement which would be around, that even nuclear weapon states … they took them over two decades to join this treaty, so we are, we are patient – we wait for them to join us.
Question: Thank you very much and congratulations. Edith from The Associated Press. One follow-up question … When are you hoping to have the fifty ratifications? The climate treaty got, took effect very, very quickly. Are you hoping that this is going to spur the nuclear ban treaty taking effect, and secondly, part of the elephant in the room is North Korea and I wonder if ICAN has any North Korean members. Have you tried to reach out to them, to the government? What exactly have you done or are you planning to do? Thank you.
ICAN response: Yeah, I think we’ve looked a little bit at other weapons prohibitions and how long it took to get them to 50 ratifications, and I think it’s been about one and a half to two years. So our ambitious goal is before the end of 2018, I think, to get 50 ratifications. But it depends really on member states … so we have (3) member states here we need to ratify, so get going! In terms of North Korea, no, obviously we do not have members in North Korea; they are not a country where civil society can work freely and engage, which makes that very, very difficult. But even these kind of treaties still impact that kind of states; no one is really immune towards international norms. It does mean, I mean we’re here in (U.N.) … North Korea here at the United Nations needing to defend themselves, needing to argue why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they’re doing that because there’s a certain expectations that you don’t do that.
We see in other issues as well countries that perhaps aren’t recognized in certain norms still have to engage in a discussion about them. So I think it does have an impact anyway, and what we do know is that it will be impossible to get North Korea to disarm, as long as we think that nuclear weapons are acceptable. When we say that nuclear weapons are acceptable and absolutely necessary, like the nuclear-armed states in many umbrella states say for security, North Korea is always going to want them and always going to see it as legitimate and justified. And I think that that is what this treaty is about: stop allowing them to justify having weapons of mass destruction that are only meant to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Question: Thank you very much. Congratulations for all your hard work. … From American television news. A follow-up on Edith’s question, and going further than North Korea – the Middle East. There was a proposal at the IAEA and even got the votes, but for some reason they have to submit it annually, to make the Middle East a free zone of nuclear weapons. Up till today we have a known yet secret nuclear power in Middle East that still does not want to even enter into the NPT, and accept the verification process in that treaty. How does ICAN going to modify its raison d’etre that after achieving the reaching of the treaty and expanding more into different parts of the world, and dealing it, with it, in a more regional approach, since North Korea is a case, the Middle East is another case … Thank God South America is the free zone of nuclear weapons, but what will be your next move in that track? Thank you.
ICAN: The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is in a sense a global nuclear weapon-free zone, so we’ll certainly be urging all nations in the Middle East to join it, to declare their unequivocal rejection of nuclear weapons. And we believe that this will strengthen norms in that region against such weapons. We’ll also be working around the world with regional organizations such as the African Union, ASEAN, Pacific Islands Forum to encourage those groups collectively to pursue signature and ratification of the treaty. We have as Beatrice said campaigned in more than 100 countries. Many of these countries are nuclear free countries, so we’ll be looking to them as potential early signatories of the treaty. Though, obviously, you’re getting a country like Israel to sign this treaty will be far more challenging. But you know this is about establishing the strong global norm and saying that these are unacceptable weapons, and until now there was no treaty globally to convey that message.
I’m sorry a follow-up … just would like to add that’s not South America that’s free of nuclear weapons, it’s Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s an organization of 34 states from all Caribbean states and south Latin America, from Mexico to the south of Latin America. So it’s a large organization. The secretary-general of this organization is here in the room; he is going to speak at the first Commission in the coming days. And we of course we are supportive of other nuclear-free zone areas and treaties, and of course one in the Middle East. Thank you.
Question: Excuse me, follow-up … You mentioned you’re gonna hope to urge Israel, etc. You did not mention Israel by name, but since you brought it, we have a nuclear deal treaty with Iran that it is in danger in peril right now, and yet we cannot, I don’t know for how long they can keep the lid on the other Middle Eastern countries from developing their own nuclear programs in order to make a balance in the force, in the power in that sensitive region. What is it exactly ICAN can do, and do you have presence in these countries in the Middle East where you’re trying to hope to make them join? Thank you.
ICAN: Yeah, I think that that’s the, that’s exactly the problem with only focusing on non-proliferation, because if you don’t address the underlying problem with nuclear weapons, if some countries can still have it, you are going to be unable to prevent every single state in the world forever from developing nuclear weapons. We can’t force any one country to disarm; countries will disarm when they think it’s in their interest. What we’re trying to do with this treaty is to make it in their interest to disarm. We’ve seen over time, like Ray mentioned, chemical and biological weapons, landmines, cluster munitions were once seen as okay weapons to have, and states were happy to have them, proud to have them. It wasn’t anything difficult or strange with that, and suddenly they were prohibited by treaties and it became difficult, and they started making other choices; some of them because of the treaty. and said it straight forwardly, they signed it, some of them don’t sign them, but still make changes. So I think that this is also how we approach it in the, in the Middle East. We can’t prevent states from wanting nuclear weapons forever; we have to make nuclear weapons unwanted.
Member state’s perspective again … The Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction … So that goes beyond nuclear weapons as part of the NPT action plan of 2010. And one of the failures of the 2015 review conference is that there was no progress on this issue, and, because there was no progress on article 6 of the NPT, meaning that nuclear weapons states took up upon themselves to disarm. So we haven’t seen this … and this frustration has also led to this ban treaty which came about. And since you mentioned it, the JCPOA on Iran … We Europeans are very clear. We think there is no justification to de-certify, and it will be also harmful and self-defeating. If you want to control non-proliferation, then this will send a totally wrong message.
Question: Carla with Global Research. I raised the issue … It seems that the largest number of nuclear weapons owned are by the U.S., the U.K. and France, at the troika. And I did raise the issue at the time when your meetings were being held, whether one of them, who was giving a press conference, would be coordinating with you, and they said no they were working in Geneva with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which permits them to own nuclear weapons. The wording of the NPT is so vague that it can be misconstrued or distorted so that my country, which is the United States, feels entitled to it. And I know that the NPT is hated by a number of developing countries, and frankly, I’m very sympathetic with that. So what can you do to change this feeling of entitlement, or this assertion of entitlement, by the countries that own the most. And I do have to make a follow-up comment … I did study the Security Council statements by the, by North Korea in 2006, when they said they would not need a single nuclear weapon if the United States wasn’t constantly threatening them with nuclear weapons. So how do you transform the NPT so it’s not seen as a license to own nuclear weapons?
ICAN: Thanks very much. Well, we see that as a, as a deliberate misinterpretation of the non-proliferation treaty and it’s one that is only interpreted that way by the five nuclear-armed states that are part of that treaty. No other party to the treaty believes that they do have that right to possess nuclear weapons, and article six of the treaty is extremely clear that they are legally obligated to get rid of their nuclear arsenals. This idea of good faith negotiation of nuclear disarmament requires them to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and that was part of the bargain for why non nuclear-armed States joined this treaty in the first place. It was that they would not acquire nuclear weapons, and those that already had them at the time of the treaty’s negotiation would get rid of them. So that’s the real and accurate interpretation and reading of the NPT. That is what is in line with the letter and the spirit of the treaty.
And I think what Beatrice said here about the effects of the prohibition treaty, of what that can have … we can’t change the NPT wording to make it more crystal clear, or to double down on this. We can’t change that treaty, but what we’ve done is negotiate a categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons that makes it clear that these weapons are illegal, are illegal, are unacceptable, and the states that did that see this as part of their implementation of their article six obligations. because article six isn’t just for the nuclear-armed states, it’s for all states that are party to the non-proliferation treaty, and most of those countries did participate in these negotiations in good faith and reach this agreement collectively. So I think we can see it having an impact on the NPT that way, through the behavior of the states parties of that treaty.
Question: The U.S., U.K. and France have said they’ll never join the treaty. How do you deal with such a tantrum?
ICAN: Well I think one thing that’s important there is to note – is that these are democratic countries, so it’s ultimately going to need to be up to the people of those countries as to whether or not they ever sign this treaty. I think it’s a bit of a short view for them to take. These current administrations may not be willing to sign these treaties, but we are seeing administration change around the world all the time. So I don’t know that that’s really an accurate statement that they can make.
Question: Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. Thanks a lot for the briefing. I wanted to ask … A previous Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Pugwash Conference, has had this event about hosting nuclear weapons, about the countries that host other countries nuclear weapons. I wanted to know whether, I think Brazil was maybe a co-sponsor or somewhere a host of it, but is there some … how does this impact … I think there’s five countries in Europe that host U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Is this, how does signing or not signing it impact that?
ICAN: I’ll make a comment on the host nations. So there are five countries in Europe that currently host U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil – Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons offers a very clear pathway for those nations to accede. They would be required to remove the weapons within a particular timeline and according to particular conditions to be agreed. We have very strong campaigns in most of those countries; we have many parliamentarians who have pledged to work for the signature and ratification of this treaty by those countries. So, we are confident that in the reasonably near future a number of those current nations hosting nuclear weapons will join this treaty.
Question: I want to follow-up with my question after my colleague. And first I want to congratulate you for this great prize. It gives the civil society so much energy and motivation, like Jody Williams in 1997, the Tunisian trade unions, like Doctors Without Borders, and that really motivated so many other civil society to continue with their work. My question again is about Israel. I always see that when it comes to nuclear countries you are vocal and blunt talking about the nuclear programs of the five permanent members, North Korea, the intentions of Iran, but yet most of those advocacy groups are silent when it comes to Israeli nuclear programs. Do you have in your literature anything about that? Do you have any campaign to talk about Israeli nuclear program? Do you have any advocacy programs around the world that includes Israel? I want to see more advocacy, more vocal voices speaking against the nuclear arsenal of Israel. Thank you.
ICAN: Yeah, we have a remarkable campaign team in Israel. It’s very small, but they’re making, you know, some progress. And there was a case recently brought before the Supreme Court of Israel to try to expose the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons, and to begin more of a public conversation on that. We’ve also managed through the Israeli disarmament movement to have some discussions in the Knesset for the first time. So, small steps forward but important steps … And I hope that this Nobel Peace Prize will help our Israeli campaigners in their work; the more that we can talk about this openly I think the more likely it is that we will see progress. In all of our literature we certainly refer to Israel as a country with nuclear weapons. I think there’s no doubt whatsoever about that, and we have also encouraged governments to speak openly about that as well. Thank you.
Question: … With Iranian news agency, and with congratulations. My question is continuation of the question regarding the JCPOA. Two years ago in a international effort an agreement was signed which was a great step towards proliferation efforts. Now it is said that the U.S. administration is planning to pull out of that agreement. I want to know how would this in your view affect the credibility of such efforts, which the nuclear agreement is one of the examples. In the future, is it not going to have adverse effects in the mind of those who think “… all right an agreement was made, and so easily one party of that agreement is coming out of it”? Thank you.
ICAN: Yes, we’ve heard lots of reports lately about the possible intention of the U.S. government to de-certify this deal, and thereby threatening it and causing more conflict, which is really not what the world needs right now. I think it’d have a lot of a negative impact if that would happen, and I think it would be, we see no evidence that, that Iran isn’t complying with it. Instead everyone, the IAEA and all the other partners to this deal say that Iran is complying with it, so we really call on the U.S. government to, to continue certifying and stay in this deal to avoid causing any more conflict or tension.
Question: Thank you … Huffington Post contributor, and I’ll add my congratulations to your Nobel Prize. I have … I’m going to ask something very naive, but how many bombs does it take to blow up the world, and how do Russia and the United States with close to 7,000, how is that in any way justified considering that you don’t need that many to do what you have to do? I’m not, I know it’s a naive question, but every time I see that list of nuclear weapon states that number is so outrageous, on both countries
ICAN: Well, there’s certainly no justification for having thousands of nuclear weapons. There’s no justification for having any nuclear weapons whatsoever. In terms of your question about how many it would take to destroy the world, there’s been some research in recent years on the effects of so-called limited nuclear exchange involving a hundred or so Hiroshima sized nuclear weapons, which would be within the capacity of, for example, the Indian and Pakistani nuclear arsenals. And that research has shown that there would be widespread famine that could result in up to two billion deaths. So, clearly there are many times more nuclear weapons in the world than would be needed to destroy the entire planet. The three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons held in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna provided much of this important evidence about the immediate and long-term impacts of nuclear detonations, which was really the impetus for the negotiations on this treaty.
I just wanted to share some information, of facts that I read the other day that still, despite working on this issue for a long time, gets me shocked. And it’s from the Union of Concerned Scientists, that put together this graphic of the U.S. arsenal where one American nuclear sub, weapons armed submarine, has the explosive power of seven World War Twos on it. And there are ten of these patrolling the world at the same time. We are talking about 70 World War Twos on our seas right now, and just that and that’s just the United States. And then you have eight other nuclear-armed states as well. And then just thinking about that, and the unacceptability of having that kind of power, and how individuals in those states have the ability to launch these weapons on … and they targeted, they’re not meant for military objects … 70 World War Twos, the explosive power seventy World War Twos are not meant for military targets; it’s meant to wipe out civilization.
I participated in an event, a conference, and it really blows your mind … We were just so damn lucky that nothing has happened, and nuclear weapons are a threat to humanity. It is not just that it is something, well “if it being dropped somewhere in the Far East, what does it concern me?” … It is a threat to the whole of humanity, as is climate change, and if we don’t do anything about it we are blindly going into catastrophe.
Question: Thank you. Congratulations on your win. So I know you’ve already touched upon the push-back from the nuclear weapons states who say that this won’t, you know, reduce the nuclear stockpiles at all. But just specifically the Nobel Peace Prize Committee themselves in their statement said “… the Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware that an international legal prohibition will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon”. The use of the word aware seems to imply that this is a fact. I’m wondering your response to that specific issue from the statement, and on a separate issue, have you seen any pressure since the BAN Treaty was adopted on states that maybe participated in the negotiations but haven’t yet signed or ratified – from the nuclear weapon states? Thank you.
ICAN: So the treaty provides a pathway for accession by nuclear-armed nations. If a nuclear-armed nation were to join, which we expect them to do at some point in the future, an additional agreement would need to be negotiated setting out the circumstances or the parameters within which they would pursue the dismantlement of their nuclear arsenal. So in that sense the weapons would be eliminated under the treaty or the associated protocols. So I think that we wouldn’t agree fully with the comment made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in that regard. Do you want to add anything to that?
I dare say something about pressure on states …Yes, there is pressure on states; there’s pressure on states even like Austria, which is known to be very stubborn in this respect. There are pressures on states not to sign; there was, there was pressure not to participate, and there even veiled or or not so much veiled threats. But I hope that this Nobel Peace Prize will give an encouragement to those countries, and say “okay, it is recognized that this is the right thing to do”, and they will join as well.
Question: I guess I’ll raise another elephant in the room, which may partly answer Evelyn’s question. The U.S. is investing a trillion dollars in upgrading nuclear weapons and Jonathan sent me something from Albuquerque or Santa Fe, where Northrop Grumman and Raytheon were thrilled about this. Because the bottom line is – it’s immensely profitable to invest in weapons, and according to a 1936 book called “The Merchants of Death” what’s even more profitable than investing in weapons is war, and DuPont made a thousand percent more profit in World War One. So how do you deal with economies that are based upon profit maximization, and this is a quick fix?
ICAN: Yeah, I think the treaty prohibits production and development of nuclear weapons, so countries that sign it cannot be a part of producing them. And it also prohibits assistance with those acts, which means that countries cannot assist with the production and development of nuclear weapons. And in a lot of other treaties this has been interpreted to include also financing. And we have this great report that one of our partner organization is doing – “Don’t Bank on the Bomb”, which is an overview of which banks and financial institutions … so banks and pension funds etc., that invests in nuclear weapons and which ones don’t, so everyone can go and look at where is my money going to be lent out to nuclear weapons producers, and then take action. And we’ve had great success, and lots of banks that have taken decisions to divest from nuclear weapons production, even before the treaty. And now obviously we have the treaty and just on 20th of September, the first American Bank that we know of announced that it has a policy to not invest in nuclear weapons, which we were very excited about. Amalgamated.
Yeah … So. very, very excited about that, and that campaign will only grow stronger. And that’s really where some of the power in this lies – in the money. And we have the power to withhold that kind of money now from weapons producers. And we saw just last year just a few … six, seven years after the cluster munitions convention entered into force, the last American cluster munitions producer Textron decided to stop producing cluster munitions because there was no market for it anymore, and a growing international stigma. But in the positive news, since to their investors, they announced that, well, this opens us up for more investments for all the banks that have blacklisted us because of this prohibited weapon that we produce. So I think that there are clear signs that treaty prohibitions have an impact even if the nuclear-armed states, if the states with the weapons, don’t sign on to it.
And I would thank you very much for attending. I thank ICAN, and congratulations again, and looking forward to many more years of achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons