This weekend at a ceremony in Oslo, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) – a global coalition of 468 organisations in 101 countries, with hundreds of campaigners – received the Nobel Peace Prize, for our “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition” on nuclear weapons, and for campaigning to raise awareness of these weapons’ catastrophic consequences.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, agreed this year, builds on previous humanitarian disarmament treaties to ban other indiscriminate and unacceptable weapons. It shows what can be achieved by a committed group of civil society organisations and states working together.

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s director, and Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of Hiroshima, collected the Peace Prize on ICAN’s behalf, with an inspiring and moving joint lecture that highlighted the need to make a choice for the future  – between the end of nuclear weapons, or the end of us.

A banned weapon of mass destruction

Nuclear weapons are the most destructive technologies of violence ever invented, with horrific and long lasting effects on people and lands. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by the majority of the world’s countries at the UN in July, places nuclear weapons firmly outside of the law because of these effects – alongside the other banned weapons of mass destruction.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s director, who received the Peace Prize for ICAN (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

The movement for this treaty was led by ICAN for civil society in partnership with states and international organisations. It focused on highlighting the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, drawing on expert evidence and the testimony of survivors, to push states to re-examine their attitudes to nuclear weapons: these are not tools of security, but indiscriminate weapons that are unacceptable for any state that values human life or the protection of civilians.

The movement also drew attention to the continuing suffering from nuclear weapon use and testing of people and communities, and the need for states to respond to this. The treaty contains the first international framework for the assistance of the victims of nuclear weapons and the remediation of contaminated environments. It also recognises the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on indigenous peoples.

The way forward to end nuclear weapons

The treaty provides the way forward to achieve the end of nuclear weapons. It represents hope and opportunity for progress.


Setsuko Thurlow, who jointly collected the Peace Prize, holding a banner with the names of 351 of her classmates and teachers who died in Hiroshima (© ICAN

States negotiating the treaty chose to do so whether the nuclear-armed states – who boycotted the negotiations – participated or not. This is because eroding the legitimacy of nuclear weapon possession, by building stigma and taboo through steps like legal prohibition, will be key to marginalising the role of these weapons in international relations – and so to their elimination.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize helps us with this goal. It recognises the opportunity provided by a humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons, and the treaty that prohibits these technologies. The authority of this award lends important support to the treaty as the way forward for nuclear disarmament.

The British government’s position

Britain, alongside the Trump administration and the government of France, confirmed last week that they would not send their ambassadors to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony – because they do not want to join an international treaty for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. With nuclear weapons continuing to pose an obvious danger to the world, this cannot be a tenable position.

© International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Peace lanterns in Hiroshima. © International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Britain is already committed to a world without nuclear weapons. The country has obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty to negotiate for disarmament, and the current government has made frequent statements reaffirming this commitment.

Furthermore, there is not as strong a social consensus in favour of the UK’s nuclear weapons in the country as a whole as debate and voting at Westminster might suggest. In Scotland, the majority of the population as well as parliamentarians reject these weapons of mass destruction. Four political party leaders – of the Scottish National Party, Green Party, Plaid Cymru and Scottish Labour – have also already endorsed ICAN’s parliamentary pledge recognising the humanitarians consequences of nuclear weapons and committing to work towards this country joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The leaders of the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru published an opinion piece on this during the Nobel weekend.

As nuclear weapons are a humanitarian rather than a party political issue, future government policy and the policy of all parties should be based not on ideology but on re-examining what it would really mean to use one of these devices.

It should also involve examining what we are asking military personnel to do, in being prepared to launch nuclear weapons. Britain has decided that it would not be right to ask our personnel to be prepared to use other indiscriminate weapons, like landmines and cluster munitions. Why is this not the case for nuclear weapons, when these weapons are so much more destructive?

The Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament, Fabian Hamilton, attended the ceremony this weekend, having been invited by the Nobel Committee alongside other dignitaries and parliamentarians. He also laid out his perspective in a national newspaper here. Those across the political spectrum should take similar steps to learn more about the opportunity the treaty provides for the security of Britain as well as for people across the world.

At the annual lighting of the Christmas tree that Norway gives in friendship to Britain each year in Trafalgar Square – for Britain’s assistance to Norway during the Second World War – the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, said that ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize was a recognition of a strong belief in the future and a peaceful world.

To take this hope forward beyond this weekend, the countries of the world must rally to join and put in to practice the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and continue this movement’s work to stigmatise, prohibit – and therefore eliminate nuclear weapons.


The Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony was livestreamed here on Sunday 10 December at 12pm GMT.

Visit ICAN’s website and

Read more about nuclear weapons and Article 36’s work as part of ICAN

Read Article 36’s publications on nuclear weapons


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