The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) originated in Melbourne in 2007 and has since grown to include organisations in more than 90 nations. We are urging all governments of the world - whether nuclear-armed or nuclear-free - to begin negotiations now on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and establishing the legal framework to eliminate them.
Despite the end of the cold war, more than 16,000 nuclear weapons remain across the globe, posing a grave danger to all humanity. So long as they exist, there is a real danger they will be used, whether by design or accident. It would take just a single nuclear weapon to destroy an entire city, and the use of several dozen could disrupt the global climate, leading to widespread agricultural collapse and famine. Eliminating nuclear weapons is the only responsible, humane course of action.
There are no doubt major hurdles on the path to abolition: all nine nuclear-armed nations continue to invest heavily in programmes to modernise and upgrade their nuclear arsenals, and none have plans to do away with them in the foreseeable future. But the good news is that the rest of the international community has begun speaking up and demanding action. Nuclear-free nations are taking control of the disarmament agenda in a way that we have never seen before.
ICAN has played no small part in bringing about this monumental shift in the approach to an issue that governments have grappled with for close to seven decades. By uniting a diverse range of organisations in more than 90 countries, we have succeeded in galvanising public and political support for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Until recently, this idea was dismissed as "pie in the sky".
Recognising ICAN's strength and effectiveness as a global network for nuclear abolition, the Norwegian and Mexican governments invited us to serve as the official civil society partner for landmark conferences held in Oslo in March 2013 and Nayarit in February 2014. For the first time in history, governments came together - in partnership with civil society - to examine the devastating immediate and long-term humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon detonations.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, United Nations agencies and an overwhelming majority of governments concluded that there could be no effective humanitarian response in the event of a nuclear war, making elimination the only option. ICAN has helped reframe the debate from one focused on narrow concepts of national security to one focused on the unacceptable effects of nuclear weapons on health, societies and the environment.
Through our advocacy to governments and our work in raising the public profile of this cause, we have been instrumental in putting the idea of a treaty banning nuclear weapons firmly on the global political agenda. We are confident that, within the next two or three years, we can translate the vision of a ban into a reality.
Every year more than US$105 billion is spent on nuclear weapons programmes - a gross diversion of resources away from schools, hospitals and other vital services. An investment in nuclear abolition is an investment in global public health, the environment, the rule of law, human security and development. It is an investment in our collective future.
ICAN has worked to enhance the contributions of organisations already devoted to nuclear abolition by promoting greater coordination, collaboration and cohesion of message. But, more important than this, we have engaged constituencies that have not traditionally been at the forefront of disarmament work - such as human rights organisations, aid agencies and environment groups - which have brought significant new resources, energy and skills to the movement.
ICAN has also succeeded in engaging younger generations in all aspects of the campaign - a fact that has not escaped the attention of decision makers. But ICAN is not a "youth campaign". Our campaigners span the age spectrum - from high school students to great-grandparents who remember the world as it was before nuclear weapons. By embracing an inter-generational approach, we have combined the wisdom of experienced campaigners with the energy and creativity of newer ones.
ICAN, as the name suggests, is about empowerment: giving individuals and organisations the tools and platforms they need to work effectively together for the common goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Our campaigners have diverse skills and backgrounds, and include doctors with expertise in the effects of radiation, lawyers who have helped shape past treaty-negotiating processes, and experts in social media and communications.
We are also about mobilising nuclear-free governments to take action. For this reason, ICAN has made the strategic decision not to devote all of our time and resources to campaigning in nuclear-armed nations. We believe that leadership for nuclear abolition is more likely to come from elsewhere, and working in partnership with likeminded governments is an effective way to achieve meaningful outcomes.
The next vital step towards the elimination of nuclear weapons is a treaty to prohibit them. There are already international conventions banning biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, but no comparable treaty - as yet - for nuclear weapons. It is high time that governments addressed this legal anomaly, which would fundamentally change the status quo.
This December ICAN will hold a major civil society gathering in Vienna ahead of the third intergovernmental conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, to be hosted by the Austrian government. We expect that this conference - like the conferences in Oslo and Nayarit before it - will be an important milestone in global efforts to ban nuclear weapons. We have very ambitious plans for Vienna.
Our previous international campaign meetings were successful in bringing together hundreds of activists and experts from across the globe to move ICAN to the next level. We have held major international gatherings in Switzerland, Japan, Austria, Mexico, Germany and Turkey, and smaller meetings throughout the world - to share our experiences and develop common plans of action.
ICAN campaigners have met with heads of state and government, setting out the compelling rationale for a global ban on nuclear weapons, and have enlisted more than 600 parliamentarians as signatories of our appeal. Since 2010 we have coordinated global days of action with hundreds of organisations holding activities such as street performances, film screenings, public lectures, school visits, flash mobs and social media outreach campaigns.
ICAN has been endorsed by prominent figures including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Martin Sheen, Herbie Hancock and Yoko Ono, and has been embraced by thousands of ordinary people who believe in the necessity, urgency and feasibility of a nuclear-weapon-free world. The momentum for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, once and for all, is fast growing. With your support, we can amplify our efforts and achieve our goal. This is history in the making.
Milestones so far:
- May 2010: The 189 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including five nuclear-armed states, unanimously acknowledge that any use of nuclear weapons would have "catastrophic" humanitarian consequences.
- November 2011: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopts a historic resolution calling on all states to prohibit and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement.
- March 2013: The Norwegian government hosts the first-ever intergovernmental conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, bringing together 128 states and major international organizations.
- October 2013: The New Zealand government delivers a landmark statement at the UN endorsed by 125 states declaring it in the interests of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.
- February 2014: The Mexican government hosts the second conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, attracting 146 states, with the chair concluding it is time to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.