The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
The Nobel Committee said the organization, which is made up of non-governmental organizations from more than 100 countries, is being honored 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’s immediate goal is to support and implement the 2017 United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted this summer. It’s the first treaty negotiated for nuclear disarmament in 20 years, the organization said.
The world’s nuclear powers, including the United States and Russia — who lead the nuclear stockpile race with around 6,700 and 7,000 nuclear weapons respectively — opposed the talks, citing a disregard for “the realities of the international security environment.”
“We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it,” U.S., UK and French representatives to the UN said in a statement earlier this year.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, expressed shock at receiving the award when she received the news from Oslo.
“What an honor. I feel like I have to collect myself for a couple of seconds,” she said during the initial phone call.
Fihn said she could not believe the award was real until the official announcement, and thought the call, made minutes before the ceremony, was a “prank.”
For Fihn, the award is a statement on “unacceptable” nuclear reliance.
“We can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security. That’s not how you build security,” she said.
The Nobel Peace Prize comes amid heightened global tensions with North Korea, which has ramped up tests of nuclear missiles in recent months.
In presenting the award, the Nobel Committee singled out the North Korean threats. It also noted other countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.
The U.S. is one of those nations. The Pentagon has pledged $1 trillion over the next three decades to overhaul its nuclear triad.
President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview earlier this year that he wanted the U.S. nuclear arsenal “at the top of the pack.”
Mr. Trump has also signaled he could pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which was reached in 2015 under the Obama administration.
When asked whether the threat of the Iran deal unraveling was a factor in the committee’s decision, Norwegian Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen sidestepped, citing a need for nuclear states to work toward eliminating their arsenals however slowly.
She later responded more directly to a question about whether the award was a message to Trump.
“We’re not kicking anybody’s leg with this prize,” Reiss-Andersen said. “We are giving great encouragement. And we also want to help ICAN focus on the extremely serious problem that the world is facing.”
Reiss-Andersen also pushed back against the notion that this year’s peace prize was largely symbolic given that many major powers have not signed on, saying ICAN’s efforts have brought more countries to the negotiating table.
A list of candidates circulate before the Norwegian Nobel Committee announces its winner in Oslo, and anyone can get a nod if a qualified Nobel nominator submits their name. Trump and Vladimir Putin of Russia both had nominations this year. Only the five-person Nobel Committee can make the final decision.
Every year, the Peace Research Institute Oslo announces an unofficial shortlist of Nobel Prize frontrunners. This year’s list includes UNHCR and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, the White Helmets and Raed al Saleh and the Economic Community of West African States.
ICAN was not on that shortlist, and the win was an upset for some circles who thought Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief would take the prize for their involvement in the Iran nuclear deal.