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Issue Date:  October 28, 2005

The Nobel Peace Prize and the nuclear danger


In this 60th anniversary year of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nobel Committee chose again to focus its award on abolishing nuclear weapons. The Nobel Committee announced that its peace prize for 2005 would go to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. Ten years ago, the prize went to Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and 10 years before that to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The Nobel Committee is right to focus on nuclear dangers and the need to abolish these weapons, and Mohamed ElBaradei has been courageous in speaking out for both sides of the nonproliferation bargain: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and achieving nuclear disarmament. He has repeatedly pointed to the hypocrisy of the nuclear weapons states for their double standards and their failure to move resolutely in fulfilling their nuclear disarmament obligations.

Mr. ElBaradei has argued, for example, “We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security -- and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use.” For his outspokenness, he earned the wrath of the Bush administration, which tried unsuccessfully to block his appointment to a third four-year term at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In making its announcement of the 2005 prize, the Nobel Committee stated: “At a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role, IAEA’s work is of incalculable importance.”

Mr. ElBaradei is deserving of the Nobel for his clear and persistent challenge to the policies of the nuclear weapons states. The Nobel Committee, however, sends the wrong message to the world in making the award to the IAEA. It is an international agency that serves two masters. On the one hand, it seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. But, on the other hand, it seeks to promote nuclear energy. Although these dual goals are enshrined in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are not compatible. The spread of nuclear reactors carries with it the potential for the spread of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear reactors have always been, and remain, a preferred path to nuclear weapons. It was the path taken secretly by Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and South Africa. It is the path once pursued by Brazil, Argentina, Iraq and Libya, and which now raises concerns with Iran. It is the path that has made Japan a virtual nuclear weapons state.

The Nobel Committee had another and, in my view, better choice before it to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons. Also nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was Nihon Hidankyo, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations. By selecting Nihon Hidankyo, along with Mr. ElBaradei, the committee could have chosen to shine a light on the hibakusha, the aging victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who have devoted much of their lives to seeking to assure that no one in the future will suffer their fate.

When the Nobel Committee chooses to make its award to the hibakusha, it will be a sign that there is an expanding recognition that the only safe number of nuclear weapons in the world is zero and that the fate of the world depends upon eliminating these omnicidal weapons as rapidly as possible. It will also recognize the truth of the oft-repeated position of the hibakusha that “human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist,” and that we must eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us.

David Krieger is the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation ( He is the author of a recent book of peace poetry, Today Is Not a Good Day for War.

National Catholic Reporter, October 28, 2005

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