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February 2019 E-News

The United States’ suspension of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has shaken the international community. European states have pledged to do everything in their power to bring the United States and Russia back into compliance with the Treaty. The implications of this recent development includes an acceleration of the nuclear arms race already underway. Faced with this undeniable threat to humanity, we could react with despair, defeatism, cynicism and amnesia. 

Or we can react with hope. A kind of hope that Rebecca Solnit laid out, in which she finds that “hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.” She calls for a kind of hope that is interested in “broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.” This is the kind of hope that we, activists, intellectuals, leaders, making up the majority of the world, act upon. We envision a world without nuclear weapons, and we demand all states to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We need real multilateral, binding solutions to end nuclear weapons, and we have one already before us. After all, Solnit reminds us that “together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before.”

In this edition

 The tide continues to turn against nuclear weapons

Amidst the news of US suspension and withdrawal from the INF Treaty and theDoomsday clockbeing held at two minutes to midnight, global support among responsible state leaders, city mayors, and activists is growing stronger than ever to see the ban on nuclear weapons enter into force. Two more states have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) so far this year. On 23 January, St. Lucia deposited its ratification instrument for the TPNW El Salvador on 30 January. There are now 70 signatories and 21 ratifying states, which only leaves 29 ratifications to go for entry into force of the TPNW!

ICAN City AppealIn the meantime, cities and regional governments are committing to the Treaty. ICAN’s cities appeal is taking off, with Zaragoza in SpainMainz in GermanyTrondheim in Norway, and Geneva in Switzerland joining the appeal this month. Towns and cities across Australia are also joining the appeal, while other major cities including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Sydney, and Toronto have already joined. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the wider International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are also keeping the ball rolling. They launched a new global campaign that draws further attention of the public to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of a nuclear war and encourages people to urge their governments to ratify the TPNW. Their campaign includes powerful visual material such as this video.

From making it binding to making it workATT CSP5 preparatory meetings and Working Groups

From 29 January to 1 February, states and activists convened in Geneva for the First Informal Preparatory Meetings for this year’s Arms Trade Treaty Conference of States Parties (CSP5). Reaching Critical Will attended the meetings, and you can find our coverage here

The ATT’s Working Groups on Effective Treaty Implementation (WGETI), Treaty Universalisation (WGTU), and Transparency and Reporting (WGTR) also actively engaged in discussions about increasingly substantive issues compared to previous years, and exchanged ideas about the further institutional strengthening of the Treaty. The theme of CSP5 of gender and arms-related gender-based violence (GBV) was extensively discussed in a session of sub-Working Group on Article 6 and 7, as well as during the prep meeting on Friday. 

In light of ATT states parties’ active engagement with the topic, it is reassuring to see there is finally real interest in implementing Article 7(4). During discussions, government officials cited various obstacles from their national experiences when seeking to implement the provision. These questions need to be further clarified.  WILPF remains deeply committed to assisting states in clarifying obligations around the provision, as well as making sure that the perspectives of those who have experienced different forms of arms-related gender-based violence are recognised in the next round of meetings and on panels. If you want to learn more about our analysis of the importance of including gender considerations and to effectively implement gender-based violence risks assessments in the ATT’s implementation, read our statement delivered during the prep meeting’s panel exchange on gender. 

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is off to a great start in 2019 and growing steadily

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (CSKR) is off to a strong start in 2019 as membership is growing steadily. We are currently a network of 93 organisations in 53 countries! One of the latest members from France, Observatoire des armaments, released a new film urging France to join others in the call  to ban killer robots.

Many of the Campaign's members will meet in Berlin from 21-23 March to plan together how we can accelerate the development of a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Register here if you want to join the conversation with Nobel Peace Prize and Laureate Ms. Jody Williams, renowned roboticist Professor Noel Sharkey, and other brilliant campaigners on 21 March. The following week, campaigners will attend the next meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), convening from 25-29 March in Geneva. The Reaching Critical Will team will be there too, covering the meeting extensively through the daily CCW Report and live-tweeting, so stay tuned! 

WILPF Cameroon killerrobots side eventThe Campaign is also being heard on the African continent. WILPF Cameroon and others were active at the margins at the 32nd summit of the African Union from 10-11 February. They held a side event and lobbied diplomats to ensure more states engage for the ban on killer robots. WILPF Cameroon reports that there is a lack of awareness among African diplomats, and that the topic is not regarded as a matter of urgency. Africa’s WILPF sections and other partners will therefore continue to increase awareness about the threat of autonomous weapon systems being used against African citizens, and the urgent need for preventive measures.

A call for mobilisation to oppose NATO, war, and racism

Building on the first International Conference Against US/NATO Military Bases, a large number of groups, including WILPF US represented by Nancy Price have been planning six days of events and actions from 30 March to 4 April 2019. On 4 April, NATO foreign ministers will meet in Washington, DC, to mark the 70thNATO Anniversary and many WILPF branches in the US will mobilise around that date to show their opposition to NATO’s destructive wars and military policies. WILPF members worldwide – especially those in NATO member states – have also been invited to organise peaceful mass protests.

Is your Section or Branch mobilising? Please send information aboutNATO Bas carousel blogpost WILPF events and actions towww.no2nato2019.org/contact/. Events in the US and in NATO and other countries will be posted here (http://no2nato2019.org/). Be sure to check back often for updates. If you cannot organise or join a protest, please consider endorsing the 30 March anti-NATO mass mobilisation by signing the endorsement here (www.no2nato2019.org).

Upcoming events

Conference on Disarmament, Part 1
21 January–29 March 2019, Geneva

Gun Free Valentine Campaign
February 14–March 8

We are the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
21 March, Berlin

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots global meeting
22-23 March, Berlin

Disarming Myths about Women, Weapons and War
7 March 2019, Waterloo, Canada

International Women’s Day 
8 March 2019

Commission on the Status of Women
11–22 March, New York

CCW GGE on lethal autonomous weapon systems
25-29 March 2019, Geneva

ATT Working Group & CSP5 Preparatory Meetings
2–5 April 2019, Geneva

Third Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the NPT
29 April–10 May 2019, New York

Featured news

UK Lords committee finds Saudi weapon sales unlawful

report by the international relations select committee says ministers are not making independent checks to see if arms supplied by the UK to Saudi Arabia are being used in breach of the law, but is instead relying on inadequate investigations by the Saudis, its allies in the war. The UK is on “the wrong side of the law” by sanctioning arms exports to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and should suspend some of the export licences, the all-party Lords committee has said.

IANSA launches Gun Free Valentine campaign

IANSA member Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) has launched the Gun Free Valentine campaign to alert women to the risks of a gun in the home, intimate partner violence, and how laws can be used to save lives. The campaign began on Valentine’s Day, 14 February, and ends on International Women’s Day, 8 March. There are many ways to get involved in the campaign. IANSA suggests to help educate members in your community about the increased risks when a gun is in the home, and dispel the myth that a gun in the home makes families safer; or to contact legislators in your home country and urge them to enact laws removing guns from perpetrators of domestic violence. Click here to learn about other ways you can support the campaign.

Nobel Women’s Initiative launches global database of women experts on conflict and security

The Nobel Women’s Initiative launched InterviewHer, a global database that seeks to connect media to a wide range of women experts on conflict, peace and security from all around the world. Currently, only 19 per cent of experts quoted in global media are women, furthering analysis from a male-centric view of the world. News are marked by gender bias and stereotyping of women. InterviewHer spearheads a more gender-balanced practice of reporting from conflict zones, and more equitable coverage of security and peace issues.

AOAV’s new report reveals devastating reverberating effects of explosive weapons use in Syria 

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) launched a new report “The Reverberating  Effects of Explosive Weapon Use in Syria”. It finds that between 2011 and 2018, there were 79,206 casualties from explosive weapons in Syria as reported in English language media. Of these 85 per cent (67,263) were civilians, though the true figure is probably far higher. The use of explosive weapons in Syria has been devastating, including the impacts under the areas of health, economy, environment, and society and culture. For instance, the number of physicians in Syria has decreased by at least 67.5 per cent; in some of the worst impacted areas over 40 per cent were living with a disability; clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war could take approximately 50 years; and seven in ten Syrians live in extreme poverty. 

US House of Representatives Votes to Stop Support for Saudi-Arabia’s war in Yemen

The US House of Representatives voted to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, a rare move to curtail presidential war powers. The 248-to-177 vote will pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to respond. Congress’s upper chamber in December passed a parallel resolution, 56 to 41, but the last Congress after the House Republican leadership blocked a vote.

Brazilian women are alarmed at new decree loosening firearms laws

New president Jair Bolsonaro has introduced a new decree loosening firearms laws in Brazil. This allows civilians to keep up to four guns at home. Women are alarmed that the decree will make pervasive violence against women even worse – and more deadly. In 2016, half of all murders of women involved a firearm. Debora Diniz of the University of Brasilia argued that weapons policy must be sensitive to a country’s gender norms, and that “a gun is an object of desire for men. Gender comes into the politics of weapons, for those who aspire to own them and those who use them to kill.” 

United States secretly shipped plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada despite the state’s protests

The US Department of Energy revealed that it secretly shipped weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to a nuclear security site in Nevada despite the state asking a court to block the move back in November. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that the state is seeking another court order to block any more shipments of plutonium as it pursues legal remedies, including contempt of court orders against the federal government. Nevada argues the Energy Department has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material that still has the potential to be used to help develop nuclear weapons to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes, and that the state's lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials. While Justice Department lawyers said that no more shipments of weapons-grade plutonium are planned to Nevada, lawyers for Nevada maintain that the government has created “palpable suspicion” that more shipments are coming to Nevada.

US administration announced suspension of compliance with the INF Treaty

After months of threats, the US administration gave notice of intent to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF)Treaty. On 1 February, the US administration announced its suspension of implementation from the 1987 arms control accord, which bans Russia and the United States (US) from stationing short-and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe. The US maintains  that it “fully adhered to the INF Treaty (...) but will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions”. Russia has consistently denied having violated the Treaty. It argues that US missile defense interceptors in Eastern Europe could be refashioned into offensive weapons, and that the rise of armed drones now threaten to provide the US with similar intermediate-range ability without violating the precise wording of the INF Treaty. The Treaty would have mechanisms to verify whether any of these allegations are true, however they are not being followed. The Treaty only allows withdrawal in the case of an extraordinary event which jeopardises one of the supreme interests of one of the parties. 
The suspension raises serious concerns about a renewed arms race and threatens the safety and security of European citizens. European officials are concerned about the treaty dissolving and urged both parties to comply with the Treaty. It is unclear whether the US administration plans to replace the INF or to renew another major treaty, New Start, expiring in 2021, which led to American and Russian nuclear arsenals to be at their lowest levels in nearly 60 years. Russia would be prepared to consider new proposals from the US to replace the INF with a broader Treaty that includes more countries. 

United States produces first low-yield nuclear warheads for its Trident missiles

The US has begun making a new, low-yield nuclear warhead for its Trident missiles that could lower the threshold for a nuclear conflict. As ordered by the US administration’s nuclear posture review last year, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has started manufacturing the weapon at its Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Texas. The new weapon is a modification of the existing Trident warhead. Its explosive power is reduced from 100 kilotons of TNT, to about five – approximately a third of the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The US administration has argued the development of a low-yield weapon would make nuclear war less likely, by giving the US a more flexible deterrent. Many critics say that this assumes there will be no miscalculation on the US side, and adversaries would have no way of knowing if a full-force Trident or its low-yield cousin would be fired at them. This can also risk starting an arms race with Russia involving smaller nuclear weapons. 

Zimbabwe deposited its instrument of ratification to the CTBT

On 13 February 2019, Zimbabwe deposited its instrument of ratification to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT). The Treaty has now 168 states parties. The Treaty will only enter into force once the eight remaining Annex II states have ratified.

Germany says EU soon to launch Iran funding scheme

Germany announced that the European Union (EU) is on the verge of launching an alternative channel to send money to Iran that would sidestep US sanctions and US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a 2015 agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanction relief. The “special purpose vehicle,” (SPV) is part of EU efforts to keep the JCPOA intact. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “We don’t want Iran to leave this agreement and start the enrichment of uranium again.” 

US Army launches AI Task Force, stirring concerns about lethal machines

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) expanded its long-standing collaboration with the US Department of Defense with the launch of the US Army’s Artificial Intelligence Task Force. The Task Force will develop prototypes and do long-term research under the direction of the Army Futures Command. It is likely that the Task Force will also be at the forefront of applying AI to weapons systems, including the development of autonomous weapon systems. Academics around the world have raised the issue whether AI researchers should assist with military projects. In the same vein, Georgia Crowther, a graduate student at CMU’s Robotics Institute, urged that “roboticists have the imperative to make a moral choice when accepting jobs or research projects and to view ourselves as conscientious objectors when it comes to giving our labor to military efforts.”

Recommended reading

Various authors, Hopes for Humanitarian Disarmament in 2019, Humanitarian Disarmament, 28 January 2019

Nick Ritchie, A hegemonic nuclear order: Understanding the Ban Treaty and the power politics of nuclear weaponsContemporary Security Policy, 31 January 2019

Timmon Wallis, Why We All Need the INF TreatyNuclearBan.US, 1 February 2019

Susi Snyder, INF Suspension: Who benefits? PAX, 1 February 2019

Rebecca Johnson, Who gains from Trump trashing the INF Treaty - Putinand Lockheed Martin!openDemocray, 3 February 2019

Helen Durham, 100 ratifications of the Arms Trade Treaty: Celebration and reflectionHumanitarian Law & Policy, 7 February 2019

Maya Brehm, The Disarmament Impact Group’s gendered nuclear politics, Article 36, 7 February 2019

Amanda Sperber, Inside the Secretive US Air Campaign In SomaliaThe Nation, 7 February 2019

Sue Wareham, Australia: fertile ground for banning the bomb, Medicine, Conflict and Survival, 7 February 2019

Mary Wareham, Deadly US Applications of Artificial Intelligence - Government Still rejects Regulations Preventing ‘Killer Robots’, Human Rights Watch, 14 February 2019

Gender at Work Podcast, Episode 11: Post Beijing, 12 February 2019, with RCW’s Director Ray Acheson; Menaka Guruswamy from Columbia University, who spearheaded the historic LGBT rights victory in the Indian Supreme court; and Vasuki Nesiah from New York University, who specializes in issues of public international law, human rights and economic justice