ICAN and Nuclear Deterrence


Recently, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).


  • This year’s Peace prize to ICAN (International campaign to Abolish Weapons) comes at a time when the threat posed by nuclear weapons has been all too evident in the global crisis triggered by North Korea’s nuclear programme.
  • The prize was awarded “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”
  • This was the second time in the last decade; the Nobel Committee awarded its annual peace prize to the laudable goal of nuclear disarmament.

What is the rationale behind giving this year’s award?

  • The award will be seen as a rebuke to the US and other eight countries that possess nuclear weapons which boycotted the negotiations leading to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  • The Nobel announcement comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions in East Asia between the US and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
  • It also comes two years after world powers sealed a breakthrough nuclear deal with Iran.
  • In July, 122 nations backed a UN treaty designed to ban and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons following heavy lobbying by ICAN
  • The prize was awarded to achieving the goal of nuclear disarmament.

What is Nuclear Prohibition Treaty?

  • It creates a legal basis for proscribing nuclear weapons among adhering states.
  • The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons prohibits States Parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or stockpiling nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
  • Signatories are barred from transferring or receiving nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices control over such weapons, or any assistance with activities prohibited under the Treaty.
  • States are also prohibited from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.
  • States Parties cannot allow the stationing, installation, or deployment of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices in their territory.
  • In addition to the Treaty’s prohibitions, States Parties are obligated to provide victim assistance and help with environmental remediation efforts.

Recent developments:

  • On 16 February 2017, states attended the organizational meeting for conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban.
  • The first round of UN negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty took place in New York City in March this year.
  • Over 120 countries were the part of this negotiation.
  • In May, the first Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom) for the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was held in Vienna. 
  • On 7 July, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by the conference.
  • 122 countries voted in favor of the treaty; The Netherlands was the only country to vote against the treaty and Singapore abstained from the vote.
  • Major Powers including the United States, Britain, and France remained opposed to the treaty and instead pledged commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

International security problems:

  • For states facing nuclear threats, the logic of nuclear deterrence remains seductive.
  • For example, the opinion polls consistently show more than 60% of South Korean citizens supporting the idea of acquiring nuclear weapons in order to counter the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.
  • Many nations will join the treaty in the hope that it will stigmatise nuclear weapons and shame nuclear weapons possessors into eventual nuclear disarmament.
  • Many states will reject the treaty and continue to hope that nuclear weapons and alliance backed by them will guarantee their security.
  • States with nuclear weapons are now engaged in efforts to modernize their arsenals to be useful for decades to come.
  • The U.S., is considering building smaller nuclear weapons to target buried facilities.
  • Pakistan has tested nuclear weapons that could be developed on the battlefield.
  • Russia may be developing new, intermediate range missiles in contravention of an arms control treaty with the U.S.
  • India is deploying nuclear weapons on new submarines.
  • China is fielding new long-range missiles with multiple nuclear warheads.
  • North Korea is racing to test and field a scary array of nuclear missiles.

What can be the harmful threat of Nuclear Weapons?

“Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth.”

On Environment:

  • Nuclear weapons are fundamentally different from conventional weapons because of the vast amounts of explosive energy they can release and the kinds of effects they produce, such as high temperatures and radiation.
  • The prompt effects of a nuclear explosion and fallout are well known through data gathered from the attacks onHiroshima and Nagasaki
  • A special feature of a nuclear explosion is the emission of nuclear radiation, which may be separated into initial radiation and residual radiation. Initial radiation, also known as prompt radiation, consists of gamma rays and neutrons and  produced within a minute of the detonation
  • Gamma rays and neutrons can produce harmful effects in living organisms, a hazard that persists over considerable distances because of their ability to penetrate most structures.

Health effects of nuclear weapons:

  • The health effects of nuclear explosions are due primarily to air blast, thermal radiation, initial nuclear radiation, and residual nuclear radiation or fallout.
  • Nuclear explosions produce air-blast effects similar to those produced by conventional explosives. The shock wave can directly injure humans by rupturing eardrums or lungs or by hurling people at high speed, but most casualties occur because of collapsing structures and flying debri.
  • Thermal radiation.Unlike conventional explosions, a single nuclear explosion can generate an intense pulse of thermal radiation that can start fires and burn skin over large areas. In some cases, the fires ignited by the explosion can coalesce into a firestorm, preventing the escape of survivors. Though difficult to predict accurately, it is expected that thermal effects from a nuclear explosion would be the cause of significant casualties
  • Initial radiation.Nuclear detonations release large amounts of neutron and gamma radiation. Relative to other effects, initial radiation is an important cause of casualties only for low-yield explosions (less than 10 kilotons).
  • When a nuclear detonation occurs close to the ground surface, soil mixes with the highly radioactive fission products from the weapon. The debris is carried by the wind and falls back to Earth over a period of minutes to hours.
  • There is a perpetual threat or insecurity of nuclear weapons among nuclear have- nots
  • Cyber warfare emerged as a more potent tool as nations can be destroyed without killing a single human being.
  • In this regard International Committee of the Red Cross, 2010 rightly pointed out that “Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.”
  • Security concern: Nuclear weapons pose a direct threat to people everywhere. They breed fear and mistrust among nations.
  • Another long-term health effect is the induction of eye cataracts. This effect has been noted in the Japanese studies and also in a study of the Chernobyl cleanup workers.

The immediate effects of radiation include the following:

  • Central nervous system dysfunction (at very high doses);
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea from damage to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to potentially fatal dehydration and nutrition problems; and
  • Destruction of the body’s capacity to produce new blood cells, resulting in uncontrolled bleeding (because of the absence or severe reduction of platelets) and life-threatening infections (because of the absence or reduction of white blood cells

Global steps to ban nuclear weapons:

  • Recently, the United Nation signed pact to ban nuclear weapons.
  • 122 nations of the world came together to accept legal ban over nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
  • Failure of NPT, CTBT (1996) on the name of maintaining deterrence against opponent (MAD-Mutually agreed deterrence principle) cannot get more support from numerous countries.
  • It is clear that these weapons of mass destruction reach are not confined to a geographical boundary or country itself.
  • The approval ban over use of nuclear weapon is a landmark or paradigm shift in the direction of disarmament.
  • it prohibits or ban in totality production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons even underground explosions in all circumstances
  • It also ensures strong provisions to protect victims of extreme radiation and contamination of environment
  • It complements international ban on all categories of weapons of mass destruction following the prohibition of biological and chemical arms.

Some loopholes:

  1. Effectiveness of treaty jeopardized due to reluctance of nuclear capable states
  2. Absence of impartial checks mechanism, countries can continue clandestine nuclear Weapon
  3. Absence of weapons at last resort for some rogue nations or nation offended first, this treaty.
  4. Although nuclear capable states still defiant and showing resistance ,which will jeopardize its effectiveness ,but they must come on board to make a safer world

What is ICAN?

  • Launched in 2007, ICAN is described as a global civil society coalition and is based in the offices of the World Council of Churches in
  • It comprises 468 partner organisations in 101 countries. 
  • ICAN is funded by private donations as well as the EU and countries including Norway, Switzerland, Germany and the Vatican.
  • ICAN is a coalition of civil society groups and governments campaigning for total disarmament.
  • It helped achieve the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, which exposes the dangerous narcissism of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
  • ICAN, coalition of more than 450 civil society groups around the world that is justly credited with spreading an awareness of the dire humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and of making the heroic effort to generate grassroots pressure sufficient to allow for the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 122 UN member (also known as the ‘BAN Treaty’).
  • The treaty was officially signed by 53 governments of UN member states this September and will come into force when 50 instruments of ratifications have been deposited at UN Headquarters, which suggests its legal status will soon be realized as signature is almost always followed by ratification.

The core provision of the BAN Treaty:

The core provision of the BAN Treaty sets forth an unconditional legal prohibition of the weaponry that is notable for its comprehensiveness:

  • The prohibition extends to “the developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and deploying nuclear weapons, transferring or receiving them from others, using or threatening to use them, or allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories of signatories, and assisting, encouraging, or inducing any of these prohibited acts.”

Opponents of De-Nuclearization:

  • Standing in opposition to the BAN Treaty are all of the present nuclear weapons states, led by the United States.
  • All five permanent members (P-5) of the UN Security Council and their allies refused to join in this legal prohibition of nuclear weapons.

The significance of the BAN Treaty:

  • The BAN Treaty as an expression of faith in the path of international law and morality radically diverges conceptually and behaviorally from the political path of nuclearism, hard power, and political realism.
  • It will require nothing less than a passionate and determined mobilization of peoples throughout the world to get rid of nuclear weapons, and its accompanying deep ideology of nuclearism.

India’s position:

  • India, holds up its commitment to a nuclear weapons free world, but says there must be “universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament”.
  • It stayed away from the treaty citing the Conference of Disarmament as the right forum to negotiate a “step-by-step process” to achieve a nuclear weapons free world.

Way head:

  • For international civil society actors who support the objective of disarmament, can increase the number of states that join the prohibition treaty, with the knowledge that the treaty itself is unlikely to produce disarmament.
  • They can also work to reduce sources of nuclear danger, with the knowledge that such efforts, in many ways, legitimize nuclear deterrence.
  • In states possessing nuclear weapons, civil society actors can challenge the most expansive and dangerous ideas that extend nuclear deterrence objectives to absurd ends.
  • Strengthening international institutions and mechanisms that prevent proliferation and enhance the credible peaceful use of nuclear technology is a critical enabler of disarmament.
  • It requires innovation and perseverance to identify and promote mechanism to reduce risks of nuclear use.
  • Building trust that states and civil society actors on either side of the debate share the objectives of mutual security.


  • Civil society organizations and government concerned about the disarmament should focus on practical steps to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons being used. Without active cooperation from nuclear weapon states, it is impossible to have a world free of nuclear weapons.
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