Nobel efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons
2017-11-01 16:20:00 -

Michael McGowan

The decision of the Nobel Committee to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a massive step forward for the global peace movement. What’s more, Ireland is entitled to celebrate for the role it has played in achieving this award. 


ICAN is the global civic society movement set up a decade ago, and which last month succeeded in getting the United Nations to ratify a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Campaigners have worked tirelessly over the last few years with the 122 states who launched the first ever nuclear weapons ban treaty at the UN, and all of this when the prospect of nuclear war seems closer than it has for a generation.


This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”


ICAN was pivotal in co-ordinating support for discussions at four UN conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Leading UN member states like the Republic of Ireland, Austria, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico and Chile encouraged the development of a process by which the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty was supported by a remarkable two-thirds of UN members in July. This treaty is expected to become fully ratified as international law in 2018.


The nuclear brinkmanship between the United States and North Korea is an enormous challenge to this global campaign against nuclear weapons, as is President Trump’s determination to unpick the Iran nuclear weapons deal which has been widely recognised as successful.


The Nobel Peace Prize commits all of us in Europe to bring the UK and France on board the historic UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The world has now been given historic encouragement for all nuclear powers and countries who shelter under the umbrellas of nuclear states to come on board.


Ireland has a long and consistent record of campaigning against nuclear weapons, with all-party support across the Irish political spectrum. Indeed, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons has historically been a key foreign affairs objective. It was in 1958 in the UN General Assembly when then Minister of External Affairs, Frank Aiken, launched the process which led to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which Ireland was the first to sign 10 years later in Moscow. 

In my first column for this paper at the beginning of the last Irish presidency of the European Union, I reported on my invitation to Oslo to attend the ceremony for the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU for its contribution to maintaining peace in Europe. At the time, I raised the question: “Will the Irish EU presidency be a presidency of peace?”


I think that I can again emphasise that Ireland has a long and consistent record of working for world peace and has the potential to have a massive influence not only in Europe but in saving the planet and for Ireland to provide the leadership in delivering the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.




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