Beatrice Fihn, Nobel Lecture, 2017

Beatrice Fihn

Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (2014–)

When the Nobel Prize Committee called to inform Beatrice Fihn, the Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), that her organization had won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, she thought it was a joke. Based in a small office in Geneva, ICAN had been working on the first global treaty to ban nuclear weapons since 2007. A decade later, the United Nations formally adopted the proposal and ICAN continued collecting signatures from eligible member states. (Fifty countries must ratify the document for it to take effect; the nine nations holding nuclear weapons boycotted the negotiations.) In a policy area historically dominated by men, the Swedish Fihn, who was born in 1982, has made her voice heard through clear, unapologetic language, becoming a figurehead for the cause. ‘We are a movement for rationality. For democracy. For freedom from fear,’ she has said.

‘The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons provides the pathway forward at a moment of great global crisis. It is a light in a dark time,’ Fihn argued in her Nobel lecture. ‘We citizens are living under the umbrella of falsehoods. These weapons are not keeping us safe, they are contaminating our land and water, poisoning our bodies and holding hostage our right to life.’ She called on nations with robust nuclear programmes to disarm, and painted the decision to support the treaty as ‘a choice between the two endings: the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us’. ‘It is not naive to believe in the first choice,’ she maintained. ‘It is not irrational to think nuclear states can disarm. It is not idealistic to believe in life over fear from destruction; it is a necessity.’

Nobel Lecture 2017

At dozens of locations around the world – in missile silos buried in our earth, on submarines navigating through our oceans, and aboard planes flying high in our sky – lie 15,000 objects of humankind’s destruction.

Perhaps it is the enormity of this fact, perhaps it is the unimaginable scale of the consequences, that leads many to simply accept this grim reality. To go about our daily lives with no thought to the instruments of insanity all around us.

For it is insanity to allow ourselves to be ruled by these weapons. Many critics of this movement suggest that we are the irrational ones, the idealists with no grounding in reality. That nuclear-armed states will never give up their weapons.

But we represent the only rational choice. We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a fixture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code.

Ours is the only reality that is possible. The alternative is unthinkable.

The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be.

Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?

One of these things will happen.

The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away.