Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director for ICAN addressed diplomats, students and activists at a lecture organised by Madrid’s Complutense University on Wednesday, 27th of June. Here we publish the full text.
Thank you for having me here today and for the invitation to address you on such an important discussion about the future of Spain, and indeed the world on behalf of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
I suppose I should congratulate you all on Spain finishing at the top of your World Cup group. Though I am still a bit heartbroken by Sweden’s last-minute loss over the weekend, I hold out hope. And today, I stand with you and say “juntos podemos ganar” (together we can win).
Nearly 500 organizations and thousands of members ranging from activists, medical doctors, lawyers, to survivors of nuclear attacks – make up the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), coalition which I have the honour of serving as its Executive Director.
We have worked to build a global movement of public opposition to nuclear weapons by engaging a broad range of organisations and people and working alongside civil society groups; many faith-based groups; international institutions like the United Nations humanitarian agencies and nuclear agencies; and like-minded governments. Through these partnerships we have helped reshape the debate on nuclear weapons and generate momentum towards their total eradication.
Our work was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2017, when it awarded ICAN the Nobel Peace Prize, specifically for working toward a treaty-based solution to counter the threat of nuclear weapons.
Nearly one year ago, on July 7, the world came together to reject nuclear weapons. 122 countries adopted a historic agreement at the United Nations. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was achieved after decades of arduous advocacy and tireless diplomatic negotiations. The treaty is a paramount to international law, as it provides a clear path to ridding the world of nuclear weapons by making their use and ultimately their existence illegal.
The world has already witnessed the atrocities nuclear weapons can create. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a vivid reminder of the catastrophic damage one single bomb can unleash onto civilian populations. Years after the world came close to the brink of nuclear destruction during the Cold War, today there are still 15,000 nuclear weapons that could be launched in a blink of an eye. We remain one bruised ego away from unleashing horrific nuclear havoc on civilian populations.
Imagine for one second the panic the residents of Hawaii and Japan must have felt this past January, as they received false alerts on their mobile phones of inbound nuclear missiles, consumed by the fear and uncertainty of whether they could survive a nuclear attack. They bear witness to the insane status quo that has persisted for far too long. These ‘accidents’ remind us what we seemed to forget at the end of the Cold War, that a mistake, a misunderstanding, or unstable leadership could thrust the world into utter destruction.
A majority of the world’s nations vehemently renounce the idea that nuclear weapons are legitimate tools of security. Since World War II, health, law, and science experts have repeatedly cautioned against the use of these weapons of mass destruction. On March 2017, prior to the negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty, 12 renown local scientists called on the Spanish government to abolish nuclear weapons on the basis of the grave threat these weapons pose on humanity. Unfortunately and much to ICAN’s disappointment, not only did Spain not vote for, sign or ratify the Treaty, Spain did not even participate in last year’s historic negotiations for a nuclear ban.
Paradoxically, Spain is a champion state in disarmament and prohibited weapons. It was among one of the first 30 ratifications that triggered the entry into force of the Land Mines Ban in 2010. Most recently, Spain ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, a treaty that regulates the international trade of conventional arms, though it remains of the top ten weapons exporters in the world.
Why would a country that has banned other inhumane weapons like biological, and chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines, and cluster munitions, not ban nuclear weapons? The answer might lie in the lack of political will, not in the will of the people who in 1986 made it clear that it would not accept nuclear weapons on Spanish soil as part of a deal for Spain to maintain its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Spain is free of nuclear weapons as of today.
But does being nuclear weapons free eliminate the risk of being subjected to their catastrophic consequences? Nuclear weapons do not respect borders or human-made boundaries. The fallout from any nuclear attack does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, it does not recognize which states are in conflict and certainly is unconcerned with the boundaries of alliance. Nuclear weapons increase risk by virtue of their very existence.
At a time of heightened global tension over fears of possible nuclear war, Spain has the opportunity of bringing democracy to disarmament, complying with the will of its citizens, and not the will of Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin and all those who continue to legitimize the use of nuclear weapons. Nothing in the North Atlantic Treaty signed EU states up to a nuclear instability doctrine based on luck and risk. Nothing in our collective defense should force us to participate in using nuclear weapons on civilians. That is the opposite of cooperative security.
The new Trump doctrine has called for the modernisation of its already massively powerful nuclear arsenal, developing newer and more usable nuclear weapons, which is quite the opposite of deterrence and cooperation for the sake of international security. Any security policy based on hosting or supporting the eventual use of nuclear weapons is one based on luck and fear, that is inherently unstable.
Neither the Spanish people or their representatives in government would consider it legitimate to abstain from joining the chemical or biological weapons ban because the US wanted to maintain a ‘mustard gas umbrella,’ or the UK or France planned to use a bio-engineered version of the plague for ‘extended deterrence.’ Spain would not remain silent while three NATO allies built brand new chemical weapons with the goal of making it easier to use them, but that is exactly what the government is doing in the case of the weapons of mass destruction that one of their inventors labelled the “destroyer of worlds.”
The abolition of nuclear weapons is an urgent humanitarian necessity. Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic consequences. Our colleagues at International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have made clear that the destruction resulting from a nuclear exchange would be devastating beyond anything we have seen before. No adequate humanitarian response would be possible.
Even if a nuclear weapon were never again exploded over a city, there are intolerable effects from the production, testing and deployment of nuclear arsenals that are experienced as an ongoing personal and community catastrophe by many people around the globe. This humanitarian harm, too, must inform and motivate efforts to outlaw and eradicate nuclear weapons.
Recently, I made two trips to other countries that reject nuclear weapons in principle, but still rely on them in practice.
I traveled to Singapore during the summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim, presenting the Korean Peninsula Denuclearisation Roadmap, a five step plan for nuclear disarmament and complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program. The roadmap provides a framework for disarmament that includes the international community and a verification regime rooted in international law and expertise. It is a framework that cannot easily be undone if an individual has a change of heart or acts impulsively, which both Trump and Kim have done in the past.
I also spoke to MPs in Belgium, a country that continues to defy the will of the people and even defies votes in Parliament by continuing to station US nuclear weapons on their soil.
Both these countries maintain a great, and often unspoken hypocrisy at the heart of their policies on nuclear weapons. Why are certain countries’ nuclear weapons a force for peace and stability when others are a grave violation of humanitarian law and threat to peace?
A phrase at the heart of the North Korea, South Korea and US negotiations has highlighted this double-standard in way the rest of us cannot ignore. That phrase: “Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
The plan we presented, which encompasses realistic steps to fully denuclearise the region and defuse this potential nuclear conflict, recognizes that we must remove the nuclear threat fully by taking US nuclear weapons off the table, as well as North Korean. The only internationally recognized mechanism for such a step is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Through the Treaty and a formalized policy of non-nuclear security, South Korea would reject the United States’ extended nuclear deterrence, the nuclear umbrella, and replace the nuclear security agreement with a general security agreement. There is nothing in the TPNW that prevents a non-nuclear state — like Spain or South Korea — from military alliance with a nuclear state.
What the TPNW does require is that state parties do not induce the development, stockpiling, use or threatened use of nuclear weapons. South Korea could, and should, build a security framework that is consistent with their values, and so should Spain.
Instead, we continue to move in the wrong direction and closer to nuclear war. The TPNW is a bulwark against these dangerous acts and the key to winding the Doomsday Clock away from Nuclear Midnight.
We have seen recent examples of how the actions of one country, or even one angry leader can jeopardize hard-won progress. Only nuclear disarmament rooted in an internationally-recognized treaty will survive the instability of domestic politics. The TPNW makes Spain safer by increasing the likelihood that nuclear disarmament agreements will stand the test of time, and not be undone by a double-standard that arbitrarily decides when nuclear weapons are good or bad. The problem is not a single country or single rash leader, it is the weapons, and they must be banned.
In Spain, political refusal to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been largely based on the fear of undermining its’ military alliance to NATO. NATO considers the treaty to be incompatible with it’s nuclear deterrence policy.
However, a recent study conducted by the Harvard Law Review’s Human Rights Clinic has concluded that existing agreements for NATO countries do not prevent states from joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
A state that wishes to remove itself from NATO’s nuclear umbrella can rightfully do so without jeopardizing its legal obligations to the alliance. Countries like Denmark and Norway, also members of NATO, have adopted their own positions on nuclear weapons. Austria, which has an existing partnership with NATO, recently became the ninth country to join the TPNW, and Switzerland has approved a motion to sign and ratify the treaty.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and ICAN’s strategy follows in the successful footsteps of treaties banning chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. The treaty is also complimentary to other international agreements, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT.
Currently 59 states have signed the TPNW, with 10 states already ratifying it in less than a year of its adoption. Spain has the unique opportunity to be a leader in the region in terms of advancing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. It is important for countries like Spain to declare their opposition to the use and modernization of nuclear weapons by strengthening the international norms against them.
It is vital that the solution for nuclear disarmament also crosses borders, within the framework of international law. Any nuclear weapon, anywhere, owned by any nation, is an unacceptable threat to all nations.
In this moment in time, certainly more than any moment since the end of the Cold War, but possibly more than any moment of history, the world needs people of courage to rise up in a spirit of cooperation to end the threat of nuclear weapons.
If we do not reverse course in the next few years, the world will see the number of nuclear-armed states go into double digits. If we do not stop this backsliding toward armageddon, the states with the largest and oldest nuclear arsenals will deploy new nuclear weapons meant to create more destruction, meant to more easily be used in conflict and meant to last for decades to come.
Our opponents, including the US Ambassador to the UN and Donald Trump himself have derided our goal as a “Fantasy,” and said it will never “magically” happen. We have been told directly by nuclear-armed states and some of their closest allies that nuclear abolition “just isn’t realist.” The truth is, it’s not realistic to believe we can live with nuclear weapons indefinitely with the weapons magically keeping peace and never being used. That is a fantasy.
Luckily, we who are serious about the threat, who recognize the hard reality of nuclear weapons have a realistic plan to eliminate them.
The majority of nations in the world are already charting a new path through the TPNW. The question remains: will states like Spain remain locked in their old ways? Will they continue to turn a blind eye to weapons of mass destruction in their backyard, on their continent? Or will the representatives of the people finally listen to the voice of the people?
Will they have the fortitude to move Spain and the world to a new reality, rooted not in submission to the will of a handful of belligerent states, but in the will of the people and the rule of international law? Will they continue to bow before authoritarian weapons and unilateral positions, or stand with their people and build a security framework founded on mutual cooperation not mutual destruction?
It’s time to bring democracy to nuclear disarmament.
We have gone over 72 years with a security framework based on hope and luck. We will not make it 72 more. Our luck will run out. We will eventually reveal that these men who built these weapons and sold us the lie that they will keep us safe were living in a fantasy world. But we cannot afford to wait for that proof to be a mushroom cloud.
Your commitment is needed to make a world without nuclear weapons a reality. So what can you do?
First, speak out against nuclear weapons. One of the ways we will abolish nuclear weapons is by stigmatizing them, changing norms and international and national laws. People need to know that these weapons not only still exist, but that new nuclear arsenals are being developed.
The second action you can take is to make sure your money, and that of organisations for whom you work or are a part do not make funds available to companies producing nuclear weapons.
These modernisation programs require investments and loans. Each year, with ICAN member PAX, we put out the Don’t Bank on the Bomb report. You can go to dontbankonthebomb.com and find out if your bank, investment fund or pension fund makes funds available to nuclear weapons producers. Even if they don’t, you can ask the financial institution to publicly clarify their position on investment in “controversial weapons” and specifically nuclear weapons.
Third, you can join ICAN through the local partners here in Spain… and urge your government to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Everyone has a right to demand these weapons are banned and that nuclear disarmament occurs. Everyone is a stakeholder as we will all be affected by the use of these weapons.
By standing up, you tell your government and the nuclear-armed states that you and all of humanity have a right to live in peace and free from the fear of imminent destruction brought by nuclear weapons. The simple act of claiming that right is powerful and stands in opposition to the authoritarian and patriarchal security framework that has made us all less safe for seven decades.
People always say to me, “But you don’t think this can really happen. Yes, it’s a nice idea, but such lofty change will never occur.”
They are wrong. This change will happen. It will happen when we stand together against the few people holding the world hostage with nuclear weapons.
To the doubters I say, “Juntos podemos ganar!”