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Applauding the Nobel committee — while remaining skeptical that nukes can ever be abolished

I applaud Nobel committee’s sentiment. But I would certainly agree that it remains to be seen how much good it can do.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, poses with the logo of ICAN, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize 2017.
NTB Scanpix/Heiko Junge via REUTERS

I take the award of Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — for their work advocating the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — as a strong statement by the Nobel committee against the prospect of nuclear war or any future use of nuclear weapons.

By some miracle, or collective act of wisdom, no nukes have been used since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the last days of World War II.

Of course, as a statement against nuclear proliferation and a statement that nukes must never be used to commit mass murder, the Nobel Committee’s decision is laudable.

I hope our current president, who wondered aloud during the campaign what was the point of having nuclear weapons if you can never use them (although he added that he would be “the last person that wants to play the nuclear card”) takes the hint. 

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But, of course, I am skeptical that nuclear weapons can truly be abolished. Since Nagasaki, the list of nations possessing nuclear weapons capability has grown to nine. So I wanted to pass along a statement put out this morning by University of Minnesota political scientist Mark Bell, who specializes in international relations and specifically on nuclear proliferation, and who added some far more expert skepticism.

“It remains to be seen whether the nuclear ban treaty will actually advance the cause of nuclear disarmament. None of the states possessing nuclear weapons or relying on the American nuclear umbrella have signed on to the treaty, and most nuclear weapons states are in the process of modernizing their nuclear arsenals. There is a danger that by focusing on the ban treaty, its advocates may distract from achieving more immediate nonproliferation and nuclear security goals that would be more likely to enhance international security.”

In fact, in addition to not signing the treaty, as the New York Times reported, the United States and other nuclear powers boycotted the negotiations leading up to the treaty and persuaded many of their allies to do the same, and some of the nuclear powers “denounced the treaty as a naïve and dangerous diversion.”

I don’t denounce it as a dangerous diversion. I applaud the sentiment and hope it can do some good. But I would certainly agree with Bell’s statement that “it remains to be seen” how much good it can do.