Strategy and work
It was recognised early on that a new nuclear disarmament initiative had to be driven forward by the nuclear-free countries and be based on international law and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in contravention of international law. The strategy was clear: first stigmatise and prohibit nuclear weapons, and then pressure the nuclear powers into multilateral negotiations on total, mutual nuclear disarmament
The ICAN campaign wished to steer the debate on disarmament towards the disastrous humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and drew many of its arguments about the unique destructive capacity and medical effects of nuclear weapons from the IPPNW. Based on new climate models, the doctors could provide scientific arguments stating that even a 'limited' nuclear war would result in global climate disruption and affect food production for many decades, placing up to two billion people at risk of starvation
Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Tilman Ruff, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, with the Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma. Photo: Kristian Ruff
The medical and ecological consequences of nuclear weapons were elucidated with particular clarity at three international conferences in 2013 and 2014. The first of these was held in Oslo at the behest of Jonas Gahr Støre, then Minister of Foreign Affairs. The conferences reached the same conclusion as that of the World Health Organization in the 1980s: the health services would be completely helpless in the face of the disastrous consequences resulting from the use of nuclear weapons. The detonation of only a single nuclear warhead over a city would cause damage of a nature and on a scale so overwhelming that any attempt to provide help would be futile
At all three conferences, the ICAN campaign was the main collaboration partner on behalf of civil society, and this provided opportunities for broad contact between diplomats and campaign workers. The IPPNW participated actively in these events, by providing working papers, holding plenary presentations and participating in the dialogue between the governments and civil society.
In parallel, the humanitarian disarmament message was promoted in other international disarmament forums, where it gathered increasing support. While 16 countries, with Norway among them, backed a consensus statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in 2012, this number had grown to 159 by 2015. The so-called
humanitarian pledge, launched by Austria in 2014, gained support from 127 countries. The pledge stated that the countries would commit to 'fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons' (7).
The first Solberg government did not want to sign up to this pledge, however, referring to Norway's membership of NATO and the rejection of a nuclear weapons ban by the nuclear powers. This decision sparked a heated political debate, because the majority in the Storting was in favour of a more active approach to this issue. The so-called nuclear compromise, adopted by the Storting on 26 April 2016, states that Norway will 'work actively for a world free of nuclear weapons' and 'engage in long-term efforts to establish a legally binding framework that will ensure this goal'
(8). The government interpreted this decision as support for its approach: first disarmament, then a ban, while others claimed that the decision implied that Norway should participate in the efforts to achieve a ban. In the summer of 2016, more than 1000 Norwegian doctors and medical students signed an appeal demanding that a ban on nuclear weapons must serve as the basis for full nuclear disarmament (9).