Pundits and pollsters have had a bad press in recent years with their inability to even get close to calling significant events. To their failures on referendums and elections we can now add the award of this year’s Nobel peace prize. Glancing at the supposed front runners on both sides of the Atlantic, there is no mention whatsoever of the actual winner – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) – not even as a rank outsider. Coming up through a field including Donald Trump and the Pope, this award is a remarkable tribute to a global activist movement which has helped put nuclear disarmament front and centre of the international political agenda.
ICAN is a global network, which has played a central role in achieving the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which opened for signature last month in New York. In total, 122 states voted to endorse the treaty (the UK was not among them), which outlaws nuclear weapons in the same way other weapons of mass destruction have been. Yet though it’s a significant global step, the treaty has been pretty much a non-story.
We need to ask why this is the case, especially at a time when nuclear war is actually more likely than at any time since the 1980s. Perhaps part of the explanation is that initiatives that come from the global south, or are backed by less powerful European countries, like Ireland or Austria, are just not taken seriously. Apparently outlawing weapons that can destroy the planet with the military version of “one click” shopping is a hopelessly weak and naïve enterprise.
But the chief reason is certainly our government’s determination to retain nuclear weapons, come what may, at no matter what cost. Defence secretary Michael Fallon insists that the UK will “never” sign the nuclear ban treaty, whilst bizarrely maintaining that Britain is committed to multilateral disarmament. Yet such an attachment to nuclear weapons threatens to pull down the whole edifice of actually usable military kit. This was sharply revealed in this week’s news of defence spending cuts, which may take two specialist naval boats out of operation at a time when spending on Trident goes unchallenged.
The reality which most of the world understands, is that sooner or later, unless nuclear weapons are abolished, our days will be numbered. Trump and North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un, with their intemperate rhetoric and dangerously escalating actions, make that point for us. That the Nobel prize committee has chosen to celebrate efforts towards nuclear disarmament instead is a step in the right direction.
Kate Hudson is the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.