"Nuclear weapons don't make us safe" - ICAN

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won over popular candidates like Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, or Syria’s White Helmets.

Euronews spoke to ICAN’s executive director Beatrice Fihn.

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“Is a world rid of nuclear weapons possible? Or is it just a naive fantasy? At a time when fears of nuclear warfare are higher than they’ve been in decades, proponents of nuclear dissuasion have been chided this year by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN. We are in Geneva today, with the Campaign’s Executive Director, Beatrice Fihn. Thank you for being with us.”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“Thank you for having me.”

“The risks are very real”

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“So, the issue of nuclear warfare, nuclear threat is more than ever in the news. We’ve just seen US President Trump take a very harsh stance on the Iran nuclear deal, after his standoff with Kim Jong Un, and the nuclear developments in North Korea. So, how real would you say are the risks today, bearing in mind that nuclear dissuasion, has been working for years. So why not now?”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“Well I think the risks are very real. Every day, nuclear armed submarines are patrolling around our seas. You have silos where nuclear missiles are pointing at certain targets. And I think that we just managed to forget about it a little bit for quite a few decades. I think the developments in North Korea, the election of Donald Trump as the US President has really put a focus on the fact that these are individual people with the power to destroy the world.”

“Donald Trump: a moron”

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“You did call Donald Trump a moron on Twitter, paraphrasing Rex Tillerson. Do you mean to say that morons in the 21st century are making nuclear deterrence irrelevant?”

Donald Trump is a moron.— Beatrice Fihn (@BeaFihn) 4 octobre 2017

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“Threatening to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians, as a method of protecting ourselves, is no longer relevant, it’s a stupid idea. Nuclear weapons don’t make us safe. We can’t win a nuclear war. Threatening to totally destroy a whole country, developing nuclear arsenals, wanting to increase the number of nuclear weapons, yes, it’s moronic.”

“Good” vs. “bad” nuclear States?

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“There are quite a few nuclear states, although they are a minority. So what about the “other” nuclear states: France, the UK, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, though the latter has never admitted or denied it had nuclear weapons. Are there “good” nuclear States and “bad” nuclear States?”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“Well, that’s the thing: I think there aren’t. I think all countries that rely on weapons of mass destruction for protection, that threaten to cause such painful… first of all death and destruction to many, but also extremely painful consequences for those who survive, it’s unspeakable suffering, nuclear weapons. And it’s not something that countries that believe in humanitarian law, human rights, democracy, should threaten to use.”

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“The Non-Proliferation Treaty has not prevented the nuclear states from investing heavily in nuclear weapons in recent years. There are about 15.000 warheads in the world today. To have an idea could you tell us how deadly could just one of those be?”

“Nuclear weapons cannot be contained in time or space”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“I think there’s obviously a lot of different types of nuclear weapons, and it depends a little bit on where and how populated the area is. But there’s a huge blast that will knock out everything, and have long term consequences. We see in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people are still suffering from the consequences. The environment is poisoned. We’ve seen at the nuclear test sites all around the world that women have difficulties giving birth, there’s a higher degree of cancers. It’s really a weapon that cannot be contained in time – it englobes all the generations – or space. The radiations spread with winds to other areas that are not involved in this conflict. If there was a nuclear war in North Korea for example, that would impact China, Japan, South Korea, with the radiation.

“And right now, the United States and all the other nuclear armed states have this as well – I’m just taking the United States as an example – they have a nuclear armed submarine. It contains the explosive power of seven World War Twos. And 60 million people died in WWII. And they have 10 of these submarines patrolling the world all the time. So the explosive power of seventy World War Twos is patrolling.”

Can the UN ban make a difference?

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“ICAN’s work has been central in the negotiations that led to the Nuclear Ban Treaty adopted last July at the UN. It’s legally binding for the states who sign up to it. The problem is it’s not binding for those who don’t, and they are precisely the nuclear weapons states. We’ve seen France, the UK and the US declaring they’d have nothing to do with it already. NATO is against it. How do you get around that?”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“We see with other weapons like chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions that once they are prohibited, and even if not all states sign up to it initially, a stigma grows around these weapons. This treaty is meant to help that. But I think this is also a tool for starting campaigning nationally, such as divestments from nuclear weapons producers. This treaty prohibits assistance with developing nuclear weapons. And therefore we think we can go to banks for example and say: ‘If you’re based in a country, that has signed this treaty, you shouldn’t be able to invest money in producing nuclear weapons.’

“I think that can be a very strong incentive as well. Nuclear weapons are hugely expensive. And governments like the UK or France have to decide, ‘Are we going to put this on a weapon that we can’t use, that only kills civilians? Or are we going to put it on what actually protects us from 21st century threats, like terrorism, climate change, organised crime, that kind of thing?’”

War is lucrative

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“But in the end doesn’t it all come down to the fact that war is lucrative, the weapons industry is lucrative? For states, for companies, for banks. Banks have invested some 500 billion dollars in nuclear weapons between 2013 and 2016. So in the face of that, how do you make nuclear disarmament bankable really?”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“It’s definitely a challenge in the entire weapons field. But I also think that there are opportunities to capitalize on this. For example, just a few years after the cluster munitions convention that prohibits cluster bombs was entered into force, the United States did not participate in the negotiations, or sign the treaty, but just last year, the last American company that produced cluster munitions pulled out of that production and cited the growing international stigma and the divestment campaigns. Banks had withheld capital from this company because of that. And I think it was quite interesting to see that these companies do respond to these kind of processes. And the money that pays for this is our tax money, so I think we have to also demand that our money goes to other things. We need a huge push. And I hope this Nobel Peace Prize for our campaign can inspire people to act. In the end, I believe in democracy. I believe that if people demand it, it will change.”

Valérie Gauriat, euronews:

“Beatrice Fihn, thank you very much.”

Beatrice Fihn, ICAN:

“Thank you very much.”

We did it! #nuclearban pic.twitter.com/6EDNYXcLw3— ICAN (@nuclearban) 7 juillet 2017
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