Since President Obama was named this year's Nobel Peace Laureate,
there's been a fruitful debate about the degree to which the award was
deserved or strategically useful. It's worth noting that the
president's strong support for the cause of nuclear disarmament was a
key reason he got the nod from Oslo. This support has not only come in
speeches, but also in a very interesting U.N. Security Council
resolution that he cared enough about to deliver to the council
personally and even chair the session in which it was adopted, an
unprecedented move for a world leader.
Speeches are important, too. The speech President Obama made in Prague on April 5, which made a big impression on Europeans including the Nobel committee, recommitted the United States government to the goal, albeit a distant one, of complete nuclear disarmament. In so doing, the president put the government back in the direction of compliance with international law, for disarmament is a legal obligation. It says so right in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the most important multilateral agreement governing the uses ("peaceful" and warlike) of nuclear power and a cornerstone of the current international order.
Article Six of that treaty calls on all states to "negotiate in good faith" on ending the nuclear arms race, nuclear disarmament, and general and complete disarmament. The phrase "negotiate in good faith," of course, contains some deliberate ambiguity; it enables the states possessing nuclear weapons to claim they are making earnest efforts regardless of the state of the perennially-deadlocked disarmament debate. Some of this ambiguity was resolved in July 1996, when the International Court of Justice issued its historic advisory opinion on nuclear weapons. The World Court was asked whether international law prohibits the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Its answer was yes, but only "generally"; however, the legal obligation to eliminate this class of weapons from the arsenals of all nations is definitive.
The court's intervention arose from a citizens' campaign called the
World Court Project, which aimed to persuade a majority of states in
the U.N. General Assembly to call for an advisory opinion. The lead
organizer of the World Court Project was a young man from New Zealand
named Alyn Ware, director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.
With tireless behind-the-scenes advocacy and diplomatic panache, Ware
and the team of lawyers and campaigners he led accomplished the task.
Despite the heavy objections of Bill Clinton's administration, Tony
Blair's British government, and all the nuclear weapon states, the
NGOs forced the issue onto the court's agenda.
For Alyn Ware, it was only one of this brilliant activist's many accomplishments. To follow it up, Ware assembled a group of legal, technical, and diplomatic experts to draft a model Nuclear Weapons Convention, a realistic draft of a treaty to ban the bomb. Global conventions banning biological and chemical weapons are already in force; "nuclear—why not?" was the group's slogan. While the verification and inspection mechanisms required to safely enforce a prohibition on nuclear weaponry may be a bit more complex than the provisions of the earlier conventions, Ware's group proved that a global abolition treaty would certainly be feasible if and when it becomes a political possibility. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has promoted and circulated the draft to all U.N. delegations.
In 2002, Ware launched Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), an initiative to build political support, country by country, for national, regional, and global solutions to the nuclear question. Traditionally, government officials have been reticent to work with NGOs on sensitive disarmament and security issues. Ware is bridging that gap with patient diplomatic spadework.
On October 13, Alyn Ware was one of four people honored with this year's Right Livelihood Award, the "alternative" or "other Nobel prize." Other winners were David Suzuki of Canada, René Ngongo of Democratic Republic of Congo, and Catherine Hamlin, an Australian doctor permanently settled in Ethiopia. They will be honored in Stockholm on December 4, days before Barack Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
Ware has some important traits in common with the former community organizer in the White House. They're only seven months apart in age. Both of them are simultaneously bold visionaries and cunning strategists. Both are relentlessly positive thinkers who radiate inner peace and even temperament. Both men make a habit of reaching out to political antagonists and seeking common ground. Ware, a former teacher and peace education promoter, says, "The principles of peace are the same whether it be in school, at home, in the community or internationally. These are primarily about how to solve our conflicts in win/win ways, i.e. in ways that meet all peoples' needs. My kindergarten teaching was thus good training for my international peace and disarmament work." While one can think of many leaders on the world stage who could benefit from a refresher course in kindergarten, our current president has not lost this wisdom.
President Obama could hardly find a more energetic, audacious, and effective partner in the nuclear disarmament effort than Mr. Ware. I would love to see what the two of them could do if they teamed up.