February 2018 E-News

All eyes are on the Korean peninsula this month, as the Republic of Korea hosts the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. This year's games are taking place in an unusual geo-political security context, following the ratcheting up of missile tests by its neighbour to the north over the last several months, and hair-raising threats of nuclear confrontation between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Trump.

The Olympics appear to provide a tiny window of opportunity to advance peace. Some of this is rooted in the ancient tradition of the “Olympic Truce”, reinforced in the modern context by UN General Assembly resolutions. The participation of North Korean athletes in the games, for example, is viewed as a positive diplomatic development, as is an increasing emphasis on the need for a peace process between the two Koreas.

It will be imperative that such initiatives continue after the last athletes and spectators have left, and that they have not just been a mere publicity stunt, which is a very real risk. The joint military exercises between the US and the Republic of Korea are set to resume immediately after the games are over; suspending them further would be one way to facilitate dialogue and reduce tension.

WILPF has been advancing peace and dialogue in and between the Koreas for many years. This includes pushing back on nuclear weapons and ideas of deterrence—whether it be the development of new weapons by the DPRK or the expansion, modernisation, and threats of use from the United States or other countries— and promoting the elimination of nuclear weapons. It also means bringing the voice of women peacemakers from the region to international discussion fora, as we did in Vancouver just last month and will continue to do at every opportunity. 

In this edition

US nuclear posture review released as Doomsday Clock advances

The US Department of Defence released its review of United States’ nuclear policy on 2 February 2018. It contained few differences from a draft that was leaked in January and confirmed an aggressive and expansive approach to nuclear weapons policy under President Trump. The new nuclear posture review (NPR) seeks to expand the scenarios for the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats, including cyber threats. It further calls for the development of new “low-yield” warheads for its submarine-launched ballistic missiles and new ground-launched cruise missiles. The new NPR asserts that the US does not support ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has no reference to Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Moreover, it directly attacks the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as “polarising” and potentially damaging to the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

One week before the NPR was published, the Doomsday Clock was advanced by 30 seconds to 2 minutes to midnight. The last time the clock was moved so close to midnight was in 1953, during the Cold War. “In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” explained The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, the group that maintains the Clock.

The NPR is being justified by the Trump administration on the basis that current US nuclear capability is insufficient to meet modern threats, particularly those posed by Russia, which responded to the NPR by calling it “bellicose” and “anti-Russian”. The two countries met a 5 February deadline under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), but the future of the agreement—which will expire in 2021—is uncertain. The US has accused Russia of violating the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, further straining relations and possibly jeopardising that agreement.

WILPF takes to Twitter to #DisarmthePatriarchy!

“Disarm the patriarchy” and “bombs are for bullies” were messages carried by Reaching Critical Will staff at the Women’s March on New York on 20 January 2018. This was also a key message put out by Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) through the posters they made available for the march—and through a Twitter Q&A they hosted just a few days later. The hour-long Q&A invited women nuclear policy experts and activists to speak about technical issues such as the size and scope of global nuclear arsenals, but also highlighted past and current examples of women’s leadership in advocating nuclear disarmament


European countries halt arms transfers to Saudi-led coalition

In early January, Norway suspended exports of weapons and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over concerns they could be used in the war in Yemen. The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition formed in 2015 to fight the Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sana’a. The war in has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced millions, prompting an unprecedented famine and cholera outbreak. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry explained that while there is no evidence of Norwegian-made ammunition has been used in Yemen, there was a rising risk related to the UAE’s military involvement there. This is in line with Norway’s commitments under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Germany’s new coalition government announced later in the January that no new arms exports would be sent to conflict parties in Yemen, which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Germany had been a significant supplier to both countries. In 2016 (the last year for which full data is available), Germany authorised military exports worth €21m to Saudi Arabia, and €17m to UAE. In addition, the Walloon regional authority in Belgium has announced that it will no longer authorise any licenses to the Ministry of Defence of Saudi Arabia, or for military equipment that could be used in the Yemen conflict. Walloon also decided to stop export licenses to UAE because of fears that weapons might be diverted for use in Syria.

Netherlands and Switzerland are among other European countries to have adjusted their export practice with respect to the Yemen conflict, but others such as the United Kingdom, France, and Italy continue with a business as usual approach, despite significant public pressure and in the case of the United Kingdom, legal action. All are states parties to the ATT.

Peace Boat makes waves in Australia

Peace Boat, an ICAN partner organisation, visited Australia for the first time in 10 years as part of its Making Waves tour. On board were hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, former dairy farmers from Fukushima, and nuclear test survivors from South Australia. The Making Waves tour combined public forums with political meetings, workshops, and press conferences in five Australian cities. The tour is a positive example of the powerful civil society movements active in Japan and Australia that are demanding their leaders reject the nuclear weapons. Neither government have signed, or indicated any support for, the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Reaching Critical Will’s director was in Sydney for the rally and demonstration that took place there as the Peace Boat cruised into the harbour.

Support the Gun Free Valentine campaign!

Gun Free South Africa, a member of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), is running a new campaign from 14 February - 8 March 2018 with the objective of challenging domestic gun violence. Gun ownership is viewed as a sign of love and protection for one’s family, in many countries, but it is a myth that a gun in the home makes families safer. The Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa found that legal guns are used in 75 per cent of cases in which a woman is shot and killed, and in 60 per cent of these cases, the shooting occurs in her own home. You can support the campaign by taking the following actions:

  • Tweet and share on social media this image with the hashtags: #GunFreeValentine #LoveLivesHereGunsDont #DisarmDomesticViolence
  • Tweet and share on social media a picture of you and your partner with the hashtags #GunFreeValentine #LoveLivesHereGunsDont
  • Help educate members in your community about the increased risks when a gun is in the home, and be a part of dispelling the myth that a gun in the home makes families safer.
  • Contact legislators in your home country and urge them to enact laws removing guns from perpetrators of domestic violence.

Upcoming events

Arms Trade Treaty working group meetings and CSP4 Informal Preparatory Meeting
6-9 March 2018, Geneva

International Women's Day
6-9 March 2018, Geneva

2018 Preparatory Committee for the Third UN Programme of Action Review Conference
6-9 March 2018, Geneva

Featured News

New chemical weapon attacks in Syria

New reports of use of chlorine gas use in Syria have emerged from the towns of in Douma in Eastern Ghouta on 22 January and in Saraqeb in Idlib on 4 February 2018. Both attacks are being linked to the Syrian government. In Douma the gas was deployed in a ground attack, whereas in Saraqeb it was air-dropped. These new attacks coincide with conclusive findings that the Syrian government committed the 2013 sarin gas attacks on Eastern Ghouta that killed 1,400 people. Since 2012 the Syrian government has repeatedly used chemical weapons in violation of the UN Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, which it ratified in 2013.

Rebel forces shoot down Russian jet in Syria

On 3 February 2018, the Syrian rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham shot down a Russian Sukhoi-25 jet in the northern province of Idlib while it was carrying out an air raid on Saraqeb. In response Russia has increased its air attacks on the region, killing civilians and causing damage to a hospital in Maarat al Numan. Since December 2017 the Syrian government, with air support from Russia, has been carrying out an offensive on the Idlib province and the UN has expressed concern for the two to three million civilians impacted by the fighting, over a million of whom are internally displaced people from other regions of Syria.

Landmines killing and injuring returnees in Raqqa

Civilians returning to their homes in the destroyed Syrian city of Raqqa are risking their lives as they face heavy landmine contamination, Human Rights Watch reports. Islamic State left behind anti-personnel mines, which are banned under the Mine Ban Treaty that Syria has not signed. Mines are exploding when people move rubble or open doors in their houses. Already more than 491 people have been injured by landmines since October, including 157 children children, says the report. The US and others have expressed willingness to help with demining efforts, but so far their assistance has been inadequate to meeting the needs of Raqqa residents.

India tests new missile

India tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons on 18 January 2018 that puts most of China in its reach. The firing of the Agni-5 comes months after the official end of a standoff between China and India over land in the Himalayas and during a tense period in India’s relationship with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor.

US imposes arms embargo against South Sudan

The US has imposed a unilateral arms embargo on South Sudan in an attempt to pressure the country’s President Salva Kiir to end the civil war that started in 2013. The conflict has seen the recruitment of more than 19,000 children as child soldiers by both the government’s armed forces and the opposition groups. The US and the UN Security Council already have sanctions in place against top South Sudanese officials, and the EU has had an arms embargo against South Sudan since its independence in 2011. US-led efforts to bring about an arms embargo in the Security Council have been unsuccessful to date

Conflict in Iraq has had a devastating environmental impact

A new report by PAX finds that conflict in Iraq has created serious air pollution while other environmental damage poses grave human health risks, including for intergenerational health problems. For example, the ISIS “scorched earth” campaign involved the burning of oil refineries, which has toxified the air and adds to the already high levels of toxic chemicals and radiation in Iraq due to previous conflicts. The PAX report calls on the international community to make a concerted effort to assist with Iraq’s environmental recovery and to make it a priority in reconstruction efforts.

The US risks civilian lives with airstrikes and drone warfare

United States coalition airstrikes caused 215% more civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency than in the previous year. The administration has loosened the rules of engagement, even further than the Obama administration did at the end of its term, and has expanded the scope of US airstrikes to include regions of Yemen and Somalia. The US relies increasingly on armed drones to carry out their airstrikes. An investigation into the US “kill chain” found that in so-called signature strikes drones are set to “loitre” above a target for up to 14 hours at a time while analysts in remote locations study the unidentified subjects’ “behaviour patterns and personal networks”. This information is then used to decide whether they should be attacked.

UN Secretary General set to unveil new disarmament strategy

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will unveil a new disarmament agenda in April, following consultations with member states and civil society experts. It is rumoured that the new agenda will address a wide range of disarmament issues, including nuclear weapons, cyberwarfare, autonomous weapons, explosive weapons in populated areas, and conventional weapons.

Recommended reading

Dr. Patricia Lewis and Dr. Beyza Unal, Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems: Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences, Chatham House, 12 January 2018

Ray Acheson, “Resisting Nuclear Weapons Means Resisting Injustice and Oppression,” The Nation, 2 February 2018

Sumiko Hatakeyama and Akira Kawasaki, “Are Killer Robots Becoming Real? From Military Drones to Robotic Weapons,” Godo Shuppan, 2 February 2018

Cesar Jaramillo, “Why a peace treaty, not just denuclearisation, should be the goal for the Korean peninsula,” OpenCanada, 12 February 2018

John Loretz, “A gold-plated blue print for nuclear war,” IPPNW Peace and Health blog, 12 February 2018

Caroline Anning, Mariam Kirollos,Gunvor Knag Fylkesnes and James Denselow, The War on Children, Save the Children, 14 February 2018