Activist group aiming to abolish nuclear weapons wins Nobel Peace Prize

JUDY WOODRUFF: A tiny group that works to prevent nuclear war is this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, based in Geneva, was honored today. The announcement in Oslo, Norway, cited North Korea's actions that have sparked verbal assaults from President Trump.

BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN, Chair, Norwegian Nobel Committee: We live in a world where the risk for nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, I'm joined by John Burroughs. He is the executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. It's a group that has worked closely with ICAN.

John Burroughs, welcome to the program.

What does this winning this Nobel Peace Prize mean for the work that you do?

JOHN BURROUGHS, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy: It brings much more attention, of course. It's really going to give momentum to getting states to join the treaty.

It will be a real boost for ICAN in its work and, hopefully, it will refocus attention on the terrible risks posed by nuclear weapons and the very real possibilities of moving forward to a world without them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But when you have the nine countries that are known to have nuclear weapons refusing to sign this treaty to abolish them and saying they're not going to change their mind, how do you make progress?

JOHN BURROUGHS: Right.

It was quite a spectacle at the U.N. this past summer. Over 120 countries, mostly countries from the global south, like Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, joined by some European countries, Austria, Ireland, were saying enough is enough. There hasn't been progress on reducing and eliminating their arsenals.

We are going to show the way by negotiating this treaty. So, at a minimum, it is a powerful statement of expectations that the countries that have them must stop relying on them, must stop threatening to use them and must move toward their elimination.

At a maximum, it provides and it is intended to provide a framework for global nuclear disarmament. It provides pathways for nuclear-armed states to join the treaty by agreeing to the verified, irreversible disarmament of their arsenals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet all this is taking place in real time as North Korea, we are seeing a regime that looks at nuclear weapons as absolutely essential for its survival, and then the United States, President Trump, looking at North Korea and saying, you make a false move and we're going to come back at you, we're going to come at you.

How do you inject this argument into what's going on in practical terms right now?

JOHN BURROUGHS: It's absolutely a contrast, what you described.

The spirit of the negotiations and of the group ICAN that played a major role in this entire effort is one of, we must look to humanitarian values. We must realize that the consequences of use of just one nuclear weapon in a city are totally unacceptable, tens or hundreds of thousands or even more lives lost.

And so that was a constant theme, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the desire to live in a world without that threat. And part of the approach was to say we are rejecting a view of the world in which you talk about nuclear weapons in terms of security and deterrence. We want to have a human-centered view of the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you, in essence, John Burroughs, have to give up on the idea of making progress in the short term?

JOHN BURROUGHS: No.

And the reason I say that is that this treaty, first of all, once it enters into force in the next year or two, it's going to exert a lot of pressure on countries that are allies of the United States, particularly in Europe and also in the Pacific, to say, we — their publics are already saying you should join this treaty.

And so — but to do so, they would have to renounce reliance on U.S. nuclear umbrella, but it also can stimulate the nuclear-armed states to take steps that are very well-known, so that they could move closer to the abolition of nuclear weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just quickly, to those who would look at what you're doing and saying this is well-meaning, well-intentioned, but it's not practical, what's the answer?

JOHN BURROUGHS: The answer is we have to think about the world in new ways.

And, you know, one of the inspiring things about ICAN is, it was really a young movement, and they were saying we want to think about the world we're going to live in, in terms of humanitarian values protecting human rights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John Burroughs with the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, a group that worked with the organization ICAN and today was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, John Burroughs, thanks very much.

JOHN BURROUGHS: Thank you.

Recently in World