Whether it’s the Arms Trade Treaty or the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, states parties are failing to meet their obligations. In particular, this is a challenge with the so-called “militarily significant states”—the ones that invest inordinate resources into building their arsenals, and that profit off the sale and spread of weapons around the world.
At WILPF, we believe in the power of multilateral agreements, of diplomacy, and the stigmatisation of war, violence, and militarism at the international level. This is why we and other activist groups work through multiple channels to hold states to account to their legal obligations. We support efforts by our colleagues in the United Kingdom to challenge arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen at the London Court of Appeal. We celebrate those building support for disarmament and demilitarisation from the ground up, as is being done with the ICAN Cities Appeal, rallying more and more major cities behind the nuclear ban treaty. Although prospects often appear bleak, it is the incessant optimism, energy, and activism of those working for a world without war and violence that keeps us going.
The final preparatory committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the NPT will be held in New York from 29 April to 10 May. States parties will attempt to develop recommendations for next year’s review conference. The backdrop for this meeting, however, is bleak. The United States has threatened to use nuclear weapons, withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, and announced its suspension of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. All of the nuclear-armed states continue to invest billions of dollars into developing or “modernising” their nuclear arsenals. Many are conducting tests of delivery systems or military exercises that include the use of nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, since the 2018 NPT Preparatory Committee, the US government has been peddling the concept of “Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament”. This approach pulls away from past NPT and other nuclear weapon governance agreements, arguing that focusing on the reduction of nuclear weapons or abolition is misguided and instead the international community should focus on “the underlying security concerns that led to their production in the first place.”
Implementation of the NPT, including article VI, has never been predicated on first establishing conditions or an environment deemed appropriate by the nuclear-armed states. The leap backwards from decades of agreed commitments and processes poses a serious challenge to the possibility of reaching agreement on recommendations this year, or any kind of outcome document next year. NPT states parties will need to confront and reject this approach to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and instead focus on actions that diminish the role and potential for use of nuclear weapons and that work towards their elimination, as promised by the NPT itself. The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is a progressive step forward by the majority of NPT states parties. The TPNW is complementary to the NPT and those who believe in the value of both treaties should lead the way at this NPT meeting.
As usual, RCW will provide monitoring, reporting, and analysis from the NPT Preparatory Committee. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the NPT News in Review throughout the conference, and check out our website for statements, documents, and other materials. Our latest NPT briefing book also provides information and recommendations on critical issues, while a new edition of Assuring destruction forever outlines the nuclear weapon modernisation programmes of the nuclear-armed states.
Nuclear-armed states and their allies face mounting pressure to join the nuclear ban treaty
While a tiny minority of governments are taking a leap backwards from previous commitments on nuclear disarmament, their citizens are demanding action in the other direction by increasing pressure on their governments to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
In Norway for example, 85 per cent of the public wants its government to sign the Treaty. The ICAN Cities Appeal also continues to make waves. Its most recent additions include the capital of Australia, Canberra, Bremen in Germany, and Salt Lake City in the United States, among others. Hebden Royd Town Council is the third Council in the United Kingdom to formally express support for the TPNW.
The number of ratifying states is also steadily rising. On 11 April Panama deposited its instrument of ratification, becoming the 23rd ratifying state. Only 27 states to go before the Treaty enters into force!
Another round of UN talks on autonomous weapon systems ended on 29 March without significant movement. The vast majority of governments agree human control is necessary over critical functions of weapon systems, such as those related to selecting and “engaging”—firing upon—targets. The majority also supports the development of new international law or a political declaration to ensure meaningful human control is maintained over the use of force. Despite this, states have failed to agree on a path forward, because a handful of governments don’t want any action to be taken. Australia, Israel, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and United States have objected to all of the aforementioned initiatives. The forum in which these discussions are being held, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), operates on the basis of consensus, which means even one state can prevent progress. It will be up to other states to move the process along in the UN General Assembly or another forum that does not operate by consensus.
Right now, a handful of states are investing significant funds and effort into developing weapon systems with decreasing human control. The international community needs to step up efforts to prevent the development and deployment of these machines. Tech workers, scientists, and academics are raising their voices against the development of autonomous weapons. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is growing, and just held its first global campaigners meeting in Berlin ahead of the CCW conference. The meeting received wide media attention, and resulted in numerous articles, such as here, here or here, attesting to the fact that the movement is unstoppable!
WILPF members from Australia, Cameroon, Ghana, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are working with WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will to prevent increasing automation in the use of force. Check out our CCW Report, our WILPF Guide to Killer Robots, or recent activities carried out by our sections such as in Cameroon, for more details, and consider joining the campaign!
Gender and GBV are front and centre at recent Arms Trade Treaty talks
The second preparatory meeting for the Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) took place on 5 April in Geneva following three days of working group meetings. Shortly afterward, the ATT community welcomed Palau as the 101st states party!
We are pleased to see noticeable progression in the depth and breadth of what is being said in the working groups and preparatory meetings about this year’s thematic focus of gender and gender-based violence (GBV) and a move away from a somewhat abstract support for an abstract concept of “gender” to concrete suggestions for how to incorporate a gender perspective in ATT implementation. WILPF participated actively in discussions in the working groups and the preparatory meeting. We called for the holistic implementation of gender perspectives across all articles of the ATT. We stressed the need to strengthen links with states’ ATT commitments and human rights instruments and the Women, Peace and Security agenda, and called for the inclusion of those impacted by gender-based violence in future ATT discussions.
WILPF also co-hosted a side event together with the Permanent Mission of Ireland, which brought together a brilliant panel of human rights experts, including Guy Feugap from WILPF Cameroon. The panelists offered local, national, and thematic perspectives including on Women, Peace and Security, and relevant human rights bodies, to guide ATT states parties in addressing some of the challenges related to the implementation of the Treaty’s GBV provision. WILPF was also represented in another side event that examined the legal dimensions of making a risk assessment for GBV. Both events were very well attended and sparked lively discussions, and we hope to deepen these deliberations in the coming months.
Despite a good level of substantive engagement in some areas, states are still not addressing fundamental issues of Treaty compliance. For complete coverage of the April meetings, meetings, read our ATT Monitor, and check out our website for more information.
(Picture credit: Charlotte Hooij/WILPF)
Third Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the NPT
29 April—10 May 2019, New York
UN Security Council open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
23 May 2019, New York
Conference on Disarmament, Part 2
13 May—28 June 2019, Geneva
Campaigners raise concerns about nuclear warheads travelling through Northampton, United Kingdom
Nuclear warheads are regularly driven from Brughfield Atomic Weapons Establishment near Reading to Coulport, Scotland, for loading onto the trident missile submarines. Another 20-vehicle convoy was recently spotted. The campaign group Nukewatch expressed grave concern that if the lorries carrying the weapons are involved in a major crash, a fire could cause radioactive contamination over a wide area. Last year a warhead-carrying lorry broke down on the slip-road in the area.
Resolution supporting the TPNW submitted in US Congress
On 11 April, US Congresspersons Jim McGovern and Earl Blumenauer introduced a historic resolution, H.Res 302: Embracing the Goals and Provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first US House of Representatives resolution that calls on the US government to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and make nuclear disarmament a central focus of US national security policy. Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, says that “this a sign that the TPNW is starting to make an impact on the national security debate in nuclear weapon states. This impact will only continue to grow as the treaty approaches entry-into-force.”
Meeting between Head of states from South Korea and the United States invites cautious optimism for Korean peace process
On 11 April, South Korean President met with US President where the US administration expressed commitment to continuing dialogue with North Korea and an openness to accepting smaller, incremental deals.
Ukraine develops cruise missiles with range of over 1,000 km
Ukrainian President announced that high-precision cruise missiles with a range of over 1,000 kilometers and capable of carrying a 150-kilogram combat load are being developed in Ukraine. "We've started the most important tests of cruise missiles... We have a missile, which have successfully passed tests, which is capable of shooting over 1,000 kilometers and carry a 150- kilogram combat load. Poroshenko noted Ukraine had previously "given up" cruise missiles that could carry nuclear warheads.
UK Channel 4 Dispatches exposes “Britain’s Hidden War” in Yemen
As part of a documentary that aired on 1 April, a British television channel exposed the extent to which the war in Yemen is made in Britain. It found that British technicians working for the UK’s biggest defence contractor BAE Systems are working on air bases in Saudi Arabia operating Saudi jets, as one example. As well, the documentary showed that British and American forces have military “liaison officers’” in the Saudi Air Operations Centre in Riyadh to help ensure the Saudis adhere to international humanitarian law but that these officers are not present when key decisions are made. The documentary includes interviews with former BAE systems technicians. One of them is cited: “The Brits do everything basically from start to finish. We are supposed to train the Saudis, but they are not there to be trained a lot of the time. We have to do all their work – from the ground up… we pretty much do 95%. The Brits don’t touch the bombs, but that’s the final 5%.”
Campaigners challenge legality of UK’s continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia in Court
The Court of Appeal in London considered the legality of continuing arms sales from the United Kingdom (UK) to Saudi Arabia from 9 to 11 April as part of a case brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). It seeks to challenge the legality of the UK’s decision to issue licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, despite the risk of the weapons being used for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict. The case follows a 2017 High Court judgement that permitted the continued export of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Leaked report reveals list of French weapons used in Yemen war
A leak of classified French defence ministry documents, published by investigative website Disclose on 15 April, details the massive use of French-made weapons in the on-going war in Yemen for the first time in public. French arms, including tanks and laser-guided missile systems, were sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, based on a 15-page classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency.
New Zealand's state pension fund to sell off stakes in gun producers
New Zealand’s state pension fund will sell off investments of NZ $19 million in makers of weapons outlawed by tighter firearms laws following the country’s worst peacetime mass shooting. The fund said that “Companies involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts prohibited under New Zealand law have been excluded from the NZ$41 billion NZ Super Fund.”
Lawmakers in New Zealand voted almost unanimously to change gun laws, less than a month after attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50 people. The new legislation bars the circulation and use of most semi-automatic firearms, parts that convert firearms into semi-automatic firearms, magazines over a certain capacity, and some shotguns.
Germany reinstates weapons export to Saudi Arabia as “conditional exception”
Germany's secret security council, consisting of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her chief ministers, has approved shipments of weapons parts to countries directly involved in the war in Yemen, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The approvals come two weeks after the German government extended a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which was originally put in place after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That extension, however, made a conditional exception for systems developed jointly with other countries amid anger at the German ban among some European partners, notably France and Britain.
Study finds link between drone strikes and additional suicide attacks in Pakistan
A joint report, published by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and Professor Mike Spagat and Luqman Saeed of Royal Holloway University, investigated the relationship between drone strikes and suicide attacks in Pakistan. The United States, the United Kingdom and other NATO countries have emphasised drone strikes as a primary weapon of war and counter terrorism in a list of countries. In the same period, the number of suicide attacks has risen sharply around the world. In Pakistan, between January 2011 and January 2019, there have been 199 confirmed drone strikes and 182 suicide bombings. Each drone strike in Pakistan causes an average of 20 deaths and 48 injuries. The findings from this study appear to show that the two are linked, with drones strikes associated with a rise in suicide attacks.
Jean-Marie Collin, “Le Traite sur l’interdiction des armes nucléaires,” Group of Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP), September 2018
Samuel Perlo-Freeman, “Who is arming the Yemen war? An update”, World Peace Foundation, 19 March 2019
“Peter Asaro on Killer Robots,” Good Code Podcast, 2 April 2019
Dr. Emilia Javorsky, Ray Acheson, Rasha Abdul Rahim, and Bonnie Docherty, “Why Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons,” Future of Life Institute Podcast, 2 April 2019
“Bonnie Docherty on small steps and big change,” The Harvard Law Record
Various authors, “Artificial Intelligence and Armed Conflict,” Humanitarian Law & Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross, March-April 2019
Frida Berrigan, “Nuclear weapons ruined my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Waging Nonviolence, 4 April 2019
Melissa Chan, “The rise of the killer robots - and the two women fighting back,” The Guardian, 8 April 2019
Andrew Smith, “Why We Are Fighting The UK Government To Stop Arming Saudi Arabia,” HuffPost, 9 April 2019
Linda Pearson, “Trident celebrations ignore Aboriginal victims of British nuclear weapons testing,” CommonSpace, 9 April 2019
Robert Dodge, “Great challenges require great vision,” The Hill, 14 April 2019
Joseph Camilleri, Michael Hamel-Green, Fumihiko Yoshida (eds.), The 2017 Nuclear Ban Treaty: A New Path to Nuclear Disarmament, 2018.