What is ICAN? It is a coalition of non-governmental organisations in one hundred countries seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons.
While it is an international organisation, ICAN’s first office was established here in Melbourne in 2007. So there’s justified local pride in its achievement. Its main office (albeit very small) is in Geneva.
One of its founding members, Professor Tilman Ruff, a health specialist at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne, has said ICAN’s genesis arose around 2005, when the nuclear outlook was dire. Tilman and others at that time drew inspiration from the success of the Landmines campaign, and decided to try to emulate that.
ICAN started small, and with an almost overwhelming objective. Despite this, ICAN considered the consequences of failing to achieve its objective (nuclear disarmament) as too catastrophic to ignore. It has worked, through its coalition, to lobby governments and the UN to this objective.
Social Policy Connections was part of the local ICAN coalition in the lead-up to the UN’s consideration of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, in the preparation of which ICAN played a large part in preparing. Bill Frilay, on behalf of SPC, prepared a submission in February 2010 to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Nuclear Non-Proliferation and disarmament, and was part of an NGO delegation led by Dimity Hawkins which met with the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 2 April. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful.
Profesor Ruff, with Rev Harry Kerr from Pax Christi, spoke to a public forum of SPC members about ICAN’s work on 29 March 2011. It was an engrossing talk, followed by many questions addressed graciously by Tillman. An abiding memory is that it became clear Tillman had been pursuing this objective for some 30 years (close to 40, by now) – a remarkable achievement.
ICAN has continued its work tenaciously, and has recently achieved a major breakthrough.
On 7 July 2017, following a decade of advocacy by ICAN and others, an overwhelming majority of UN members, 122 in all, adopted a landmark global agreement to ban nuclear weapons, known as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
This Treaty prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or from allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging, or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.
A nation which possesses nuclear weapons may join the treaty, as long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding time-bound plan. Similarly, a nation which hosts on its territory another nation’s nuclear weapons may join, as long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline.
The treaty was negotiated at the United Nations in the first half of this year, with the participation of more than 135 nations, as well as of members of civil society. It opened for signature on 20 September 2017. It is permanent in nature, and will be legally binding on the nations which join it. It will enter into legal force once 50 nations have signed and ratified it. To date, over 50 nations have signed, with three (one of which is the Holy See) already ratifying it.
So this year has seen a wonderful double achievement by ICAN. From a small start, something significant is being achieved (“from little acorns…”), although the nuclear situation is, of course, now dire, especially in regard to North Korea.
We are delighted and have sent our SPC congratulations to Tilman and his ICAN colleagues.