Smart Thinking

The Nobel Peace Prize: can words speak louder than actions?

The Nobel Peace prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It’s a noble gesture, but will it have an impact?

Words by
Aleks Cvetkovic

Last week, the Nobel committee awarded ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons with the Nobel Peace Prize for its noble work.

Earlier this year, ICAN campaigned for the drafting of an entirely new disarmament agreement – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – that opened for signatures at the UN in July. The treaty is a marked step forward (albeit a bureaucratic one) which seeks to officiate a wholesale global ban on nuclear weapons, with the eventual ambition of dedicating the entire UN to disarmament.

Awarding the prize to ICAN is a gesture laced with meaning at a time when North Korea is actively developing its nuclear programme and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance. It provides a timely reinforcement of the western world’s concern over growing nuclear tensions in North Korea and it also points a stern finger towards those powers closer to home that are continuing to expand their Nuclear capability, principally the USA and Russia.

“The problem of North Korea is not one the world has faced before. The Nobel Peace Prize has, if anything, foregrounded this more sharply”

Forgive my scepticism, but although Nobel has chosen wisely, the Peace Prize remains symbolic, the latest in a series of passive Western gestures in the face of a very real, physical threat. I’m not saying I don’t admire the Nobel Peace Prize, or its more than deserving recipients, but the shadow of nuclear war is going to take rather more than disapproving speeches and political posturing to lift.

While the West is imposing economic sanctions on Kim Jong-Un’s regime, those sanctions don’t appear to be doing a whole lot. The prospect of firing first is unthinkable, even to Trump (one hopes). So what’s the solution? I’m beginning to suspect there isn’t one – not one worth contemplating any way.

The problem of North Korea is not one the world has faced before. Yes, we’ve faced unhinged dictators and, yes, we’ve faced-down nuclear threats in the past, but we’ve seldom had to contemplate the prospect of a madman with his finger hovering quite so close to the big red button.

In reality, we’ve not even come close to solving the problem of North Korea and the Nobel Peace Prize has, if anything, foregrounded this reality more sharply. The last time the world faced a threat like this, the League of Nations tried a policy of strong condemnatory words and the political ‘appeasement’ of Hitler in 1938. It was an unmitigated failure. So why should Kim Yong-Un take notice of the UN now?

Can words speak louder than actions? Seemingly not yet.