On March 30, 2024, at Soka University, NAPF President Ivana Hughes participated in a panel discussion titled “Can the Nobel Peace Prize Prevent Nuclear War?”. She spoke alongside Dr. Asle Toje, Deputy Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, and Dr. William Potter, Founding Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, on a panel moderated by Alexander Harang, Distinguished Adjunct Professor at Soka University of America.

The event took place in Soka University’s beautiful Athenaeum and was well attended by Soka University students, staff, and interested members of the public. The premise was two-fold: 1) nuclear weapons are an existential threat to humanity and 2) numerous Nobel Peace prizes in the Atomic Age have been given to individuals and organizations engaged in disarmament and arms reduction efforts. Given the still-present danger posed by nuclear weapons, have Nobel Peace prizes mitigated the risk? How can the Nobel Peace Prize Committee continue to support disarmament efforts? The conversation attempted to answer these questions.

Each speaker delivered personal remarks, which were followed up by a dynamic discussion with questions posed by the moderator and by an eager audience. Afterward, the conversations flowed into the reception hall. A central theme that emerged throughout the event is that peace is difficult to measure. Indeed, the world is currently full of conflict- perhaps more than in recent decades. However, we have no idea what kind of society we would be living in if not for the valiant efforts of previous generations of peacemakers. As such, the public must continue recognizing and finding inspiration in the lives of those who engage in Nobel Peace Prize-worthy work.

Dr. William Potter kicked off the event recounting why nuclear weapons issues are important to him. He discussed the significance of the ever-growing nuclear-weapon-free zones and strengthening international diplomacy. Dr. Potter also identified the global problem of ignorance around nuclear weapons topics and explained that quality education is vital to developing critical thinking skills that can counter false deterrence rhetoric.

Next, Dr. Hughes followed with her remarks. A resounding message wove throughout her reflection: it is near impossible to predict how our present efforts will shape the future, and we should engage in every effort we believe might contribute to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. She offered the example of physicist I.I. Rabi, whose discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance in 1938 led, many decades later, to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which has profoundly impacted modern medicine. Likewise, envisioning all of the potential positive outcomes of current peace-building efforts is impossible: “Like the physicists, the doves and disarmament proponents cannot always predict what exactly will do the most good or where exactly their work will lead.”

Third, Dr. Asle Toje offered insights into the reasoning behind recent selections of Nobel Peace Prize winners. He identified three categories of individuals and organizations awarded the prize for disarmament efforts. The first is the “influencer”: the person who uses their position of power to speak out against nuclear weapons. Second are institution builders: those who create frameworks and structures through which disarmament can be advanced. Third are those who collect facts and information. All three are equally essential to holistically move towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Dr. Toje ended by reminding the audience that to do meaningful, creative work, one needs to feel inspired by and connected to the natural world. Although the present state of nuclear weapon arsenals is worthy of fear, it is only through a love of our shared planet and each other that we can create lasting change.

Throughout the Q&A session, a wide range of topics including the war in Ukraine, geopolitical shifts since the Cold War, nuclear deterrence, calculation and conceptualization of nuclear risk, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons were discussed. In her concluding comments, Dr. Hughes stated: “I do this work because I am an optimist. I believe that we can and we will get rid of nuclear weapons in my lifetime.”

For Dr. Hughes’ full remarks, please see: HERE