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A Nobel Peace Prize and the Pope: Dyson on Nuclear Disarmament

By Pace University

For the last few years, Associate Professor of Political Science Matthew Bolton and Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Emily Welty, along with Dyson College students, have been working intensely on negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Faculty provided advocacy based on their research, and students participated in internships, volunteer opportunities, and civic engagement activities.

Their efforts have paid off, as ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017.

The Nobel has increased awareness of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons,   as well as added significant momentum to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted at the Union Nations in July by more than 120 countries. The treaty bans the possession, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are a concern due to calamitous human suffering and environmental risks they pose, and their propagation of a climate of fear and distrust among nations, whose financial and human resources could otherwise be used for peace-building.

With so many issues facing the world today, it is easy to overlook one with common sense seemingly at its core, but a profound interconnectivity exists between the nuclear disarmament movement and, for example, how both people and the planet are treated.

Says Bolton of the impact of the Nobel Prize win, “I think it presents a tremendous opportunity to overcome the inertia and apathy that has too long surrounded nuclear weapons, and this recognition can encourage others engaged in social movements around other crucial issues, like climate change. We have agency and can reshape the world around us.”

Another milestone would soon follow.

The Pope calls

Welty’s particular focus on nuclear disarmament has been on galvanizing communities of faith and their outspokenness on this issue. This past November, she was invited by the Vatican to take part in a conference on the subject, due to her work with the World Council of Churches, a member of ICAN.

Pope Francis has always been a strong advocate of the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and the Holy See was the first country to both sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The conference, however, produced a groundbreaking shift in the Church‘s position, from a critique of not only the threat of use, but also the possession of nuclear weapons.

This is important, especially in light of the fact that many countries, including the United States, have not signed the treaty.

Says Welty, “For Catholics living in nuclear weapons states, this is a clarion call that one’s government is engaged in something that actively violates the sacred tenets of the faith as defined by His Holiness.”

Hopeful vision of a nuclear-free world

Welty and Bolton, a married couple, have long held a vision of a nuclear-free world, with Welty engaging communities of faith to join the conversation on this issue, and Bolton advocating provisions for environmental remediation, victim assistance, and pathways to renunciation of nuclear weapons by nations.

For Welty, the moral debate has been shaped by civil disobedience by people of faith, including dear friends who have gone to prison for their determined resistance. Bolton became interested in addressing the humanitarian effects of weapons when living and working as an aid worker in landmine-affected communities in Bosnia and Iraq.

Together, their hope for a nuclear-free world is rooted in a belief in human potential.  

Says Welty, “I am absolutely convinced that the principled, careful, compassionate work of everyday people matters – that the world can be a better, safer, more loving place but that it requires our dedication, belief and passion to get us there.”

Peace and disarmament education

In a 2016 report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognized Pace for its “growing role in disarmament education,” which includes Dyson College’s Peace and Justice Studies programs, Model UN, and International Disarmament Institute.

Terrie Soule ‘18 and Sydney Tisch ’19, peace and justice studies majors, specifically worked on the nuclear ban research that was an important component of the work ICAN did, which ultimately led to the Nobel Peace Prize.

Soule was involved with ICAN through an internship at the World Council of Churches, in which she made calls to diplomatic missions to encourage them to sign the treaty.

She says of the Nobel Prize win, “Working with the World Council of Churches has been an amazing experience. Banning nuclear weapons is often thought of as unrealistic and too idealistic of a cause, so the treaty winning the Nobel Peace Prize brings a lot of well-deserved validity to such an important issue.” 

The liberal arts and change agents

A liberal arts education provides students with both an interdisciplinary framework and critical thinking skills from which to view the nuclear weapons debate.

Says Welty, “This work really asks students to reject pre-constructed narratives that accept nuclear weapons as ‘just the way things are’ and opens up the possibility that if you are careful and intelligent in your critique and can imagine a different way of doing things, you can change the world.”

We look forward to our faculty and students continuing this important work.

Compliments of Pace University , a member of the EACCNY