Malcolm Turnbull chided for 'silly' snub to Nobel peace prize-winning group
When the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was awarded the Nobel peace prize last week, the advocacy group received messages of congratulations from around the world.
But in the chorus of praise for the organisation – which was launched in Melbourne in 2007 – one voice was conspicuously absent: that of Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
It was a snub that the group’s director, Beatrice Fihn, has described as both “disappointing” and “silly”.
“Australia claims to be committed to a world without nuclear weapons and here’s an Australian-born campaign that has won the Nobel peace prize for the fight against nuclear weapons; it seems a bit silly that they can’t even congratulate us,” Fihn told the Guardian during a visit to New York on Tuesday.
The prize followed a major victory for the campaign in July, when 122 countries signed a UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, the first legally binding international agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons.
Australia – along with dozens of others, including the eight countries with nuclear arms – boycotted the negotiations, and did not sign the treaty. Nonetheless, Fihn argued: “They [the Australian government] should at least welcome people mobilizing against nuclear weapons, because what are the other options? That we mobilise people in favour?”
The decision to award the prize to Ican this year was interpreted by many as a rebuke to Donald Trump’s bellicose rhetoric over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
But Fihn argued the prize was “really a rebuttal to everyone who participates in defending nuclear weapons”.
“[Trump] makes people uncomfortable with the idea of nuclear weapons. But at the same time, if you’re uncomfortable with Trump having the sole authority to launch US nuclear arsenals, then you’re really uncomfortable with nuclear weapons in general.
“It means that you recognise that the deterrence isn’t foolproof, that there are moments where people will make irrational decisions.”
Two days before the prize was announced, Fihn labelled Trump a “moron” on Twitter, following reports that the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had used the same language in private earlier in the summer.
She conceded that the prize had brought with it “a whole new responsibility”, adding: “I have to stop tweeting so much.”
“It [the tweet] is still up. I can’t delete it now. And obviously it was a joke.”
Fihn also welcomed what she described as the “tension and friction” in the UK over nuclear disarmament, arguing such debate was “where you make progress”.
The Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who in contrast to Turnbull issued a statement congratulating Ican on the prize, has long supported disarmament, despite his party’s continuing support for the Trident nuclear deterrent system. While Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, sent a ringing endorsement of the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons in July, despite the UK boycott.
If Corbyn were elected prime minister, Fihn said, the coalition would urge him to reconsider Britain’s position.
But, she said, “you can’t just sit around and wait for them [politicians] to do it, that’s not how it works any more. You have to push the conversation.”
Beatrice Fihn: ‘They should at least welcome people mobilizing against nuclear weapons, because what are the other options? That we mobilise people in favour?’