Beatrice Fihn joins ICAN as Executive Director

July 1, 2014

Beatrice Fihn, former Manager of Reaching Critical Will, is joining ICAN as the Executive Director. She has previously represented the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in the International Steering Group of ICAN. Fihn is joining the ICAN team at an exciting time, in the middle of preparations for the upcoming Civil Society Forum to be held in December in Vienna.

We asked her to answer some questions about the future of the campaign and the current nuclear disarmament challenges and opportunities.

For years, you have been observing disarmament processes in various arenas. How do you think this humanitarian initiative could be a change-maker for nuclear disarmament? 

For everyone working on nuclear weapons, it is obvious that there has been a change in recent years– there is a different energy and dynamic in the discussions. The humanitarian framing has really mobilised and re-energised civil society, as well as governments. There is a glimmer of hope in a field that has been very slow to progress, and where anything ambitious has been quickly smacked down. This humanitarian lens has provided people with a lot of optimism, which is very inspiring and engaging. Re-focusing on what the weapons are and what they do has made us look at them differently.

In many ways, this humanitarian framing is a return to the core of what nuclear disarmament really is about. Why do you think it took so long for us to refocus and go back to the basics?

It’s been there all the time, in the big movements in the 1980s on nuclear testing and campaigning, in 1950s and 60s – the effects of these weapons on humans and the environment have always been the main reason why we need to give these weapons up. The focus on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has been present in every moment where we’ve made great progress, like the partial test ban treaty, the CTBT, and the nuclear-freeze movement, for instance. These victories have come from great mobilisation around the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. As tension dissipated from nuclear weapons after the Cold War, attention on nuclear weapons remained with a few committed activists only. Those in the disarmament field continued working on nuclear weapons, but it didn’t create the type of discussions we needed. When you’re very involved in the topic it becomes difficult – you become focused on details, technical discussions, and you sometimes get a little bit lost. You start believing it’s not the people you need to convince but diplomats, which isn’t true. We forgot it’s the people – the elected representatives and the public – these are the ones you need to talk to, not the diplomats or the nuclear experts.

With Reaching Critical Will, you have monitored many disarmament processes. Which is the one that has inspired you the most, and why?

I think one of the most inspiring achievements was when civil society activists and governments managed to prevent a protocol in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons from undermining the recently negotiated Cluster Munitions Convention in 2011. Most governments in these traditional forums would rather accept weak and undermining documents than nothing at all, but this time, a large group of smaller states held their ground and defended the recently established norm against all cluster munitions.

This is strong evidence that norm-setting processes work. They have an effect, even when not all states initially support them. They can create a momentum difficult to stop, and this is what we want to replicate with nuclear weapons.

As you are joining ICAN full-time, we are in a potentially decisive moment in our work to start negotiations of a ban on nuclear weapons. What is your vision for ICAN in the near future? 

We’ve seen remarkable growth and expansion of the campaign in the last few years; we’re getting more and increasingly diverse partner organizations. Campaigners are being more active, more focused, and we are becoming stronger and more visible every day. It’s really inspiring to see how the last two years have changed the campaign and the forums we are engaging with. I’m hoping to continue that, to expand the campaign and expand our reach. We want to make sure the Vienna conference is a really big success and becomes a significant milestone in our work on banning nuclear weapons. We want people all over the world understand that something is happening on this topic. I think we’ve had a great success in making an impact in the disarmament world already, but we also need to step out of this box and reach out to a wider public and to organisations working on other issues. Every meeting where governments get together to discuss nuclear weapons, we hear more and more states call for a ban and agree that a new legal instrument is needed. I think ICAN is getting closer and closer to that critical tipping point, where enough states are ready to start negotiations, and I don’t think we are going to have to wait much longer.

  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate