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May E-News

International peace and disarmament is arguably in crisis. Much of this can be ascribed to the United States’ reckless trashing of past arms control agreements. Earlier this month, the world learned that next to its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty,the US administration announced that it will revoke its signature from the Arms Trade Treaty. This affront to multilateralism also creates space for other countries to consider their own participation in these agreements. Against this backdrop, “it becomes extremely challenging to understand how to advance peace and security,” as Ray Acheson observes in one of her editorials of the NPT News in Review during this month’s nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee. However, the challenge to multilateralism can also generate activism and diplomacy to preserve and enhance our collective security in new, creative ways. Those believing in diplomacy and cooperation seem to draw even more energy, resilience, and courage from the destructive behaviour of a few. During the NPT PrepCom, for example, many non-nuclear armed states, energised by their common achievement of the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), rallied behind each other with a fierceness rarely seen before to ensure that the draft outcome of the meeting reflected the position of the majority rather than the minority. While by no means easy to sustain, this attitude should give us hope that peace and security can be achieved, and that the tide is slowly but surely changing against the few nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-supportive allies.

In this edition

NPT PrepCom: Non-nuclear armed states took a strong stance for nuclear disarmament and gender considerations have increased considerably

The Third Preparatory Committee of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) took place from 29 April to 11 May in New York. This was the last preparatory meeting before the Review Conference in 2020. The Reaching Critical Will team provided extensive coverage of the meeting, including live Tweeting and regular editions of the NPT News in Review. As usual, we made all relevant conference documents and statements available on our website. 

NPT2019 TEAM RCWAs in past years, RCW coordinated the NGO presentation segment, delivered on 1 May. You can find all statements, including WILPF’s statement on gender and the NPT, on the website. Reaching Critical Will also organised morning briefings with government representatives for civil society. Prior to the conference, Reaching Critical Will published its 2019 NPT briefing book, and its 2019 edition of Assuring destruction forever

The third PrepCom is among other things tasked with trying to adopt recommendations for the upcoming Review Conference. The Chair produced two draft texts. According to the majority of participants, the second draft better reflected the majority view in the room, particularly on issues related to nuclear disarmament. The nuclear-armed states were irate that their view, that the “security environment” is not ripe for any further action on disarmament, was not reflected in the document. Since they could not be adopted by consensus, the draft recommendations were put into a Chair’s working paper to be submitted to the RevCon. While not perfect, the second draft of the recommendations includes good language on the deep concerns over the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, on the complementarity of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) with the NPT, on the active encouragement of states parties to support gender diversity in their delegations, and on the central importance of implementing obligations and commitments to accomplish nuclear abolition. 

Gender considerations received heightened attention this year throughout the PrepCom. Various states raised the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on women and girls, the need for increased diversity of participation in NPT discussions, and Ireland called on states parties to promote “discourse that overcomes gendered stereotypes about power and security.” Many working papers and side events addressed different aspects of gender in the NPT. RCW’s Ray Acheson participated as panellist in the side event Gender and the NPT: building momentum to 2020 and beyond, organised by Ireland, that attracted a broad and diverse audience and that sparked rich and honest discussions. 
(Picture: The Reaching Critical Will team and Alicia Sanders-Zakre from Arms Control Association who supported the team during the two weeks.)

 Outside of UN conference rooms, broad public support for the abolition of nuclear weapons continues to rise

While the majority of diplomats and civil society trapped in windowless UN conference rooms stood their ground against the few nuclear-armed bullies and their allies, much has also happened meanwhile outside of UN walls! 

Prior to the start of this year’s PrepCom, more than 100 International Earth DayCampaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) activists met in New York and strategised together on the way forward to ensure that the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) enters into force as quickly as possible. Campaigners left the meeting energised and committed as ever to advance the nuclear ban. On Earth Day, 22 April, ICAN and others mobilised for the elimination of nuclear weapons in light of its immense destructive power it would have on life on earth. And on 10 May, great news came from Germany’s capital: Berlin has joined the ICAN cities appeal. This is especially powerful as Berlin is also a federal state.

PAX Nukes InvestmentGreat resources rallying for the nuclear ban continue to pop up everywhere. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) just published its Treaty Ratification Kit, and PAX and ICAN released their report Producing mass destruction: Private companies and the nuclear weapons industry. It finds, amongst others, that governments have more than $116 billion in contracts with private companies to make key components of nuclear weapons, and it calls out 28 companies that are heavily involved in the nuclear weapon industry. As we near the entry into force of the TPNW, these companies will move further into the spotlight, and should therefore immediately cease their involvement in the development, testing and production of nuclear weapons.

Lastly, stay tuned for the world premiere of the documentary Nuclear Weapons: the beginning of the end featuring RCW’s Ray Acheson along with many other ICAN activists and ban treaty diplomats. The film will be shown on 6 June at 7PM in Village East Cinema, New York, and registration is still open! Pressenza, that produced the documentary, encourages anybody that’s interested to organise a showing in your own city.
(Picture credits: ICAN & PAX)

Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

On 23 May, the UN Security Council will mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1265 (1999) with an open debate on the protection of civilians. Twenty years after the Security Council included the protection of civilians as an item in its agenda, immense work remains to be done. The original mandate was motivated, among other things, by the Council’s “deep concern” at the erosion of respect for international humanitarian law during armed conflict. This erosion has since continued. Many items will be up for discussion during the open debate. One that WILPF’s disarmament programme is focusing on is the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which has devastating impacts on human beings and the physical and social infrastructure of cities, towns, and communities. The UN Secretary-General once again raises this issue in his protection of civilians report released on 7 May 2019. He highlights attacks on civilians and civilian objects using explosive weapons, including in Central African Republic, Syria, and Yemen. In the report, he reiterates his call on all parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and expresses his support for the development of a political declaration that would commit states to this. He also welcomes the decision of Austria to host an international conference in October 2019 to raise awareness of the problem of explosive weapons in populated areas and encourages UN member states to participate constructively to initiate a process to draft a declaration.

Ahead of the debate, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which WILPF is a member, released an updated briefing paper on this issue. In it, we call on states to acknowledge the humanitarian suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, endorse the UN Secretary-General and International Committee of the Red Cross’ recommendation that states should “avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas,” and indicate support for the development of a political instrument to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and provide a framework for victim assistance.

WILPF has consistently highlighted the gendered harms and other human rights violations that can be caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We continue to call on states to end this practice and to also end arms transfers where there is a risk of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Upcoming events

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

World Premiere of “Nuclear Weapons: the beginning of the end”
6 June, New York

Featured news

Tensions rise amidst US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal

A year after US withdrawal from the Joint Nuclear Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s deputy foreign minister informed that Iran’s “patience is running out.” He called out the United States’ “bullying behavior” and its violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA. Iran’s president announced that the country would begin scaling back curbs to its nuclear programme in 60 days if countries did not shield it from US unilateral and unlawful sanctions. An Israeli cabinet minister warned of possible direct or proxy Iranian attacks on Israel should the lack of agreement between Tehran and Washington escalate. United Kingdom’s Jeremy Hunt expressed concern at an unintended escalation, and called for a “a period of calm so that everyone understands what the other side is thinking”. European signatories to the agreement reaffirmed their support for the JCPOA but rejected Iran’s two-month deadline, and urged Iran to continue implementing the agreement. In the meantime, the US has approved the deployment of Patriot missiles to the Middle East, just months after the Pentagon removed several Patriot batteries from the Middle East. The US also recently re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s energy and banking sectors.

US administration proposes new arms control agreement with Russia and China but China isn’t interested

After US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the US administration proposed a trilateral nuclear arms-control agreement that would bring Russia’s nuclear weapons unregulated by treaties under new limits, and to limit or verify China’s nuclear capabilities for the first time. However, China indicated that it has no interest in negotiating a nuclear control treaty with the United States and Russia. 

New report: the UK House of Lords International Relations Committee on the rising threat of nuclear weapons use

The International Relations Committee published its report “Rising nuclear risk, disarmament and the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.” It called on the UK government to endorse the principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” urging the UK government to address the grave concerns about the deteriorating state of nuclear diplomacy. 

US administration announces its withdrawal from the Arms Trade Treaty

The US president announced at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting that it will “revoke the effect of America’s signature from this badly misguided Treaty.” The US signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in 2013 under President Barack Obama but has never been ratified by US lawmakers. The Treaty regulates international trade in conventional arms and seeks to prevent and eradicate illicit trade and diversion of conventional arms. The US administration has not yet decided whether it will continue to attend international conferences or contribute funds related to the Treaty. 

China considers joining Arms Trade Treaty

The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang announced that China considers joining the ATT as it supports the Treaty’s goals. After the US’ withdrawal from the ATT, China said that it hoped that relevant countries can do more to strengthen the mechanism of international arms control and safeguard international and regional peace and stability.

Lebanon becomes 102nd state party to the Arms Trade Treaty

On 9 May, Lebanon deposited its instrument of ratification with the United Nations. It is the second ATT state party in the Middle East after Palestine’s accession in 2017. Following the deposit ceremony, Ambassador Amal Mudallali of Lebanon stated that, “Lebanon, who knows too well the pain and suffering that conflict and arms bring to humanity, is proud to become the 102nd State Party to the Arms Trade Treaty today. There are millions of people suffering from the consequences of unregulated trade in conventional arms around the world, and the Arms Trade Treaty gives hope to address this.” 

France confirms contested arms exports to Saudi Arabia

The French government confirmed a new shipment of weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite claims that Saudi Arabia is using French arms in the Yemen war. France’s Defence Minister Parly refused to identify the types of arms but reaffirmed France’s stance that they have been used only for defensive purposes by Saudi Arabia. 

Brazil’s President signs decree easing gun imports

President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree to ease restrictions on gun imports and increase the amount of ammunition a person can buy. The decree had initially been designed to ease restrictions for collectors, marksmen and hunters but was expanded to include other provisions. The decree raised a limit on ammunition purchases to 5,000 cartridges per year for normal guns. The previous cap was 50 cartridges per year for average citizens, with discretionary limits for soldiers, police, hunters and some other categories left to the Brazilian military. 

Teachers in Florida can now arm themselves under new gun bill

Legislature in Florida passed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom, expanding a program launched after the deadly high school shooting in Parkland with the aim of preventing another massacre. Florida’s House of Representatives voted 65 to 47 to pass the bill after hours of debate in which the Republican majority thwarted Democratic efforts to amend or stop the measure. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, enabling school districts wishing to take part in the voluntary Guardian program to arm teachers who pass a 144-hour training course. 

Report finds that US-led coalition airstrikes in Raqqa killed at least 1,6000 civilians 

Amnesty International, along with the monitoring group Airwars, released a reporton the US-led coalition’s air and artillery campaign during the four-month offensive to retake the Raqqa, Syria, in 2017. The report foundthat the coalition strikes killed at least 1,6000 civilians. The coalition had admitted responsibility for having killed 159 civilians in Raqqa. 

World military expenditure grows to $1.8 trillion in 2018

The Stockholm International Research Institute (SIPR) released its 2018 report on world military expenditures which has risen to $1822 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 2.6 per cent from 2017.The five biggest spenders in 2018 were the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France, accounting together for 60 per cent of global military spending.

Global Campaign on Military Spending concluded successfully

The Global Day(s) of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) took place from 13 April to 9 May under the slogan Demilitarise: invest in People’s Needs! Almost 20 countries participated in this year’s campaign, with at least 60 actions. Civil society, activists, and academics from all over the world organised a wide range of different activities, from vigils, protests, conferences, online campaigns, and exhibitions, raising awareness about the counter-productive results of military expenditure.

Recommended reading

Gilbert Holleufer, “The masculine condition in contemporary warfare,” Humanitarian Law and Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross, 14 May 2019 

Christine Ahn, “More US Pressure on North Korea is not the Path to Denuclearisation,” Truthout, 9 May 2019

Jon Schwarz, “How to dismantle the absurd profitability of nuclear weapons,” The Intercept, 4 May 2019

 Producing mass destruction: Private companies and the nuclear weapons industry, PAX/International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), 2 May 2019

Mary Wareham, “Mary Wareham: Why NZ should ban killer robots”Radio New Zealand, 1 May 2019

Frank Slijper, Alice Beck, and Daan Kayser, “State of AI—Artificial intelligence, the military and increasingly autonomous weapons,” PAX, April 2019

Madeleine Rees, “On UN Security Council Resolution 2467,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 30 April 2019

Bonnie Docherty, “Clinic Reports Show Benefits of Joining the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty Outweigh Concerns,” 30 April 2019

International Peace Institute, “Policy, Promise, and Pitfalls: Women, Peace, and Security in 2020,” 18 April 2019

International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard, “Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—Myths and Realities,” April 2019

United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, “Civil Society and Disarmament 2018—Advocacy by Non-Governmental Organisations to Strengthen the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons,” 2018