A photo exhibit, “From the Atomic Bomb to the Nobel Peace Prize,” on display through Oct. 8 in Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall south lobby, examines the impact of nuclear weapons and progress toward their elimination. Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection and a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, offers an introduction to the exhibit: 

The use of two atomic bombs at the end of World War II transformed the nature of warfare in frightening ways. The new weapons leveled cities in a single stroke and caused hundreds of thousands of casualties. During the Cold War, a small group of countries developed ever bigger bombs that dwarfed the power of the original ones. Testing displaced local, often indigenous, people and produced widespread and long-lasting radioactive contamination that continues to affect humans and the environment today. While states adopted treaties that limited testing and proliferation and created regional nuclear-weapon-free zones, their response was incomplete. Around the turn of the twenty-first century, progress slowed dramatically.

In 2010, opponents of nuclear weapons began to reframe the debate as a humanitarian, rather than primarily a national security issue. By transcending national borders, this approach motivated non-nuclear armed states to act collectively to advance nuclear disarmament. In December 2016, the UN General Assembly mandated negotiation of a new treaty. On July 7, 2017, states voted 122 to 1, with one abstention, to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global civil society coalition, served as a driving force in spotlighting the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and pushing states toward a ban. During the negotiations, the HLS International Human Rights Clinic provided legal and advocacy support to ICAN, successfully arguing for provisions to both prevent and remediate human and environmental harm. In recognition of its leadership, ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

This exhibition reflects on the past while heralding the prospect of a brighter future. It traces the history of nuclear weapons from the devastation of early use and testing to the global effort to eliminate these horrific weapons of mass destruction. At a time when tensions among nuclear powers dominate the media, it showcases an alternative, humanitarian path to achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.

 The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, Hibakusha Stories/Youth Arts New York, and HLS Advocates for Human Rights.