Setsuko Thurlow, survivor of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, speaks at the closing of the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, July 7, 2017.

© 2017 Ralf Schlesener

Awarding the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is both timely and well deserved. It affirms the humanitarian disarmament path forged by many since the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its coordinator, Jody Williams, won the Nobel Prize 20 years ago.

ICAN played a leading role in breaking the deadlock surrounding nuclear weapons by reframing it as a humanitarian issue rather than a national security one. Their global coordination effort also included like-minded governments, United Nations agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and nongovernmental organizations.

Humanitarian disarmament” contrasts with traditional disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation initiatives, which are driven by national security interests. Humanitarian disarmament builds on international humanitarian and human rights law and seeks to better protect civilians from suffering during armed conflict.

While receiving the Nobel Prize is a true honor, the real prize for this coalition of campaigners is the hard-won 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty was adopted by 122 countries in July and has been signed by 53 countries since it was opened for signature in New York last month. 

The treaty bans all nuclear weapons. It also contains obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment harmed by the use or testing of the weapons.

Norway, home to the Nobel Peace Prize, and other countries that have not joined the ban treaty should reevaluate their stance and take steps to sign and ratify the agreement without delay. The United States and other nuclear powers that have dismissed the treaty and dissuaded states from signing it should stand down and reconsider their position.

This award reflects international recognition that the humanitarian approach is the most effective way to address nuclear weapons and other key disarmament issues.