November 2017 E-News
Some days it feels like the forces of violence are suffocating the voices of peace and justice. Militarily powerful countries are selling arms for profit to governments or other actors fuelling conflict and terror. Many of these same states are variously engaged in bombing and shelling towns and cities, killing civilians, threatening nuclear war, providing cover for states that are committing war crimes, and fighting with each other in the Security Council over these actions. At same time, we have activists on trial in Australia for trespassing at the Pine Gap military base, new weapons contracts being made at arms fairs, and a frustrating lack of forward-looking outcomes from recent UN meetings on autonomous weapons because a minority of countries seem to think it’s a good idea to build weapon systems without human control.
But all is not lost. The majority of countries have rejected nuclear weapons and adopted a treaty banning them. Parliamentarians and activists in countries around the world are making life difficult for governments that still support these genocidal weapons of mass destruction. Activists around the world are putting their bodies on the line to protest weapon sales. Coalitions are forming to prevent new technologies of violence. Women and men are standing up in droves against sexual violence and harassment, having achieved this space to breathe after lifetimes and legacies of struggle.
Amidst the negative, we have each other. We have a strong vision of peace and a determination to act for it. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo will be a moment of celebration for our collective efforts for peace and justice. The work must continue, in solidarity and with courage. It’s always a case of turbulent times. It’s up to else to do what we can to shape it for the better.
In this edition:
- ICAN and the Nobel Peace Prize!
- First Committee and the nature of progress
- CCW is moving slowly on autonomous weapons, but momentum is building for legal and political responses
- Dozens of organisations call for end to US military support to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
- Support WILPF's fundraising campaign on 25 November!
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended reading
Exciting times are ahead for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which WILPF is a steering group member. The campaign will officially accept the Nobel Peace Prize in December during a series of high-profile events and activities in Oslo, and around the world. Campaigners in many countries are organising celebration events, and those in Oslo will participate in a campaigners meeting. In New York, WILPF is encouraging states that have not done so to sign or ratify the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Friday, 8 December to coincide with events in Oslo. The Nobel Peace Prize is the best opportunity we’ve had so far to draw attention to the Treaty as an alternative path to nuclear war, which is on everyone’s minds these days. We need to use this moment to remind people that cooperation and disarmament can lead to peace for all.
The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security wrapped up on 2 November following five weeks of debate that at times descended into bitter arguments between member states. Real world tensions such as those between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, the Ukraine and Russia, or Russia and the United States, led to noticeably more antagonistic statements, rights of reply, and influenced voting patterns, particularly on resolutions relating to nuclear and chemical weapons. Read more >>
Further coverage and analysis of these and all issues is available in the 2017 First Committee Monitor, which was published weekly by Reaching Critical Will. Also see statements, resolutions and voting results, and more on the RCW website.
Last week, the first formal group of governmental experts (GGE) met in Geneva to deliberate on how to deal with autonomous weapon systems (AWS). It’s been four years since we first began to discuss the challenges associated with the development of AWS at the United Nations. In that time, we have deliberated about the legal, ethical, political, security, and military implications of such weapons. Going into this GGE, it already seemed like it was time for our multi-stakeholder community to advance to the next level of its work—a political or legal response to prohibit or at least begin to put limits on the development and use of such weapons. But the consensus-based nature of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in which these talks have been held means that even though the vast majority of states are ready and willing to take some kind of action now, they cannot because a minority opposes it. Despite this, momentum for a legally binding appropriate to these weapons is growing, with the majority of states supporting new international law regulating or prohibiting AWS. Read more >>
Further coverage and analysis of the GGE is available in the CCW Report, which was published daily by Reaching Critical Will. Also see statements and documents on the RCW website.
Dozens of organisations call for end to US military support to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
WILPF is among a diverse coalition of 65 civil society groups from the US and globally that endorsed a letter to US Congress calling for the end of military support to Saudi Arabia in October. As the letter states, “By providing technical, logistical and other military support for the Saudi/UAE-led coalition in Yemen, the U.S. has facilitated numerous violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen and the creation of the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.” The letter was time to coincide with the introduction of resolution H.Con.Res.81 that invokes the War Powers Resolution.
On 13 November the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorised under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq. It publicly acknowledges the Pentagon has been sharing targeting information and refueling warplanes that Saudi Arabia and other allies are using to attack Houthi rebels in a conflict that is widely considered a proxy war with Iran and a humanitarian disaster.
Support WILPF's fundraising campaign on 25 November!
WILPF will organise a one-day fundraising campaign on 25 November as part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The campaign will focus on and illustrate root causes of violence. As the disarmament programme of WILPF, Reaching Critical Will promotes gender perspectives in disarmament issues in order to both prevent and address gender-based violence. Women are often forced to endure rape and other sexual abuse and violence, as well as abductions and forced slavery, including prostitution, at the point of a gun. Research shows that in some countries the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide by 500 per cent. Radioactive violence from nuclear sites and testing disproportionately affects women's health and wellbeing. Let’s work together to eliminate all forms of violence against women, including those that occur as a result of weapons. Save the date and stay tuned for more information on how you can contribute to our work!
Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meeting of high-contracting parties
22–24 November 2017, Geneva
16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence
25 November–10 December 2017, Global
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and WILPF Fundraising Campaign
25 November, Global
Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)
4–8 December 2017, Geneva
International Day for Human Rights
10 December, Global
Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony
10 December, Oslo
Sixteenth Meeting of States Parties to the Anti Personnel Land Mine Convention
18-22 December 2017, Vienna
Activists are on trial in Australia for praying outside the Pine Gap military base
The “peace pilgrims” have been charged under the notorious “Defence Special Undertaking Act” which carries a maximum sentence of 7 years for trespass. This is only the second time in history this 1952 law has been used. Timothy Webb, Andrew Paine, Margaret Pestorius, and James Dowling are all charged with entering the prohibited area without a permit, while Mr. Webb is also charged with filming while on the base, on 29 September 2016. In their defence, the activists and other expert witnesses have been giving testimony about the base’s role in facilitating US wars and drone strikes, among other things. Follow along with the Close Pine Gap blog.
US Senate has first hearing in 41 years on the president’s authority to launch nuclear weapons
For the first time in nearly a half-century, the US Senate held a hearing to consider the authority of its president to launch nuclear weapons. While not officially connected to current US President Trump, most view this as a reflection of concern about his personality and escalating tension with North Korea. As Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said, “Americans are concerned that President Trump is so unstable [and] so volatile that he might order a nuclear strike that is “wildly out of step” with our national security interests.” The senators pressed the witnesses for ways that Congress could responsibly restrict presidential authority. Some have offered bills to prohibit the first use of nuclear weapons without a declaration of war by Congress or to prohibit funding for a preemptive attack on North Korea without congressional consent. Democratic representative Adam Smith is planning to introduce a bill that would make it the policy of the United States to never use nuclear weapons first.
US government speaks to hide nuclear weapon safety records from public
The head of the federal agency that produces US nuclear weapons has privately proposed to end public access to key safety reports from a federal watchdog group that monitors ten sites involved in weapons production.
Congressional Budget Office estimates $1.2 trillion to modernise US nuclear weapons
A report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost at least $1.2 trillion between 2017 and 2046 to introduce the mix of nuclear-armed submarines, bombers and missiles that are now under construction.
US Congress finalises $700 billion military budget
Members of U.S. congressional defense committees said on Wednesday they supported a plan for $700 billion in “defence” spending in fiscal year 2018, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a boost for the military.
UN Security Council in stalemate over chemical weapons investigations
The United Nations Security Council is in deadlock in how to move forward with investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), between the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has expired and on 16 November, the Security Council rejected two rival proposals for its renewal. Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have given the JIM another year to look into chemical weapons attacks, while a resolution sponsored by Bolivia and backed by Russia was also tabled, but failed to get enough votes to pass. The US voted against that resolution. There was a last ditch effort on 17 November to salvage the JIM, but this was unsuccessful.
Dynamics around the JIM have been tense for a while. In October, an effort to renew the mandate were stopped by Russia which said at the time that it wanted to wait for the outcomes of scheduled report from the JIM before deciding on its future. That report, which came out a few days after the October resolution failed, stated its leaders were “confident” that Syria was responsible for an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April using sarin that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others. These findings were supported by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, but rejected by Russia as “mythical”.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau challenged over position on nuclear ban treaty
Justin Trudeau continues to face pressure in Canada over his comments that the nuclear weapon ban treaty is “useless” and his refusal to congratulate the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on its Nobel Peace Prize. Setsuko Thurlow, an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima who is a Canadian citizen and resident of Toronto, held a press conference with other Canadian ICAN campaigners to announce that she will be jointly receiving the prize on ICAN’s behalf in Oslo in December. The Toronto City Council and Toronto Mayor have recognised her efforts for the abolition of nuclear weapons and congratulated her work with ICAN leading to the prize, but the federal government has only said that Thurlow is an “extraordinary individual” while saying Canada will continue to focus on initiatives that include the nuclear-armed states rather than the support the ban treaty.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also challenged over nuclear ban
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was founded in Melbourne, Australia, yet the Prime Minister has not yet congratulated it for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. ICAN was, however, congratulated in a Greens/Labor motion that passed the Senate. In addition, a Labor parliamentarian tabled an open letter that ICAN coordinated, with 90 Australian organisations signed on, urging the Prime Minister to sign the Treaty. ICAN Australia has compiled media attention to the prize, the treaty, and the government’s position.
Italian parliamentarians spearhead efforts to ratify nuclear ban treaty
More than 200 Members of Parliament from most Italian parties have signed the ICAN parliamentary pledge and thereby committed themselves “to work for the signature and ratification” of the nuclear ban by the Italian Government. Italy is now well-positioned to advance the conversation on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons within the NATO alliance.
Pope says world should condemn 'very possession' of nuclear weapons
Pope Francis, in some his strongest comments ever on nuclear weapons, said that the world should condemn not only their possible use but “their very possession”.
EU governments warn that cyber attacks can be an act of war
European Union governments have drafted a “diplomatic document” warning that individual member states could respond “in grave instances” to cyber attacks with conventional weapons. This represents an unprecedented deterrent aimed at countries using hackers and cyber espionage against EU members, and is seen as an intended show of strength to countries such as Russia. It’s also worrying in that implies that cyber attacks could be responded to with conventional weapons. Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will create a new Cyber Operations Centre as part of an update to its strategy intended to help integrate cyber into NATO planning and operations at all levels.
UN findings suggest a higher number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan strike
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said that in its initial findings at least 10 civilians may have been killed by an airstrike in the city of Kunduz on 4 November despite a US military investigation that found no civilian deaths. In its most recent report, the United Nations said there had been a 52% increase in civilian casualties from airstrikes in the first nine months of the year to 205 killed and 261 wounded.
New contracts awarded at Dubai Airshow
Business as usual seems to the message coming out of the Dubai airshow with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) locking in several contracts, as did other countries. Reportedly, they signed a $1.6 billion contract with the Lockheed Martin for upgrades to the country’s 80 F-16 Block 60 fighter jets, and also awarded a contract to Dassault to upgrade its fleet of 62 Mirage 2000-9 fighters. Turkey revealed a new drone at the show, which is presently unarmed but will begin weaponized testing in January 2018. Perhaps most significant is that the UAE revealed it is in talks with the US to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Diane Carmen, “Anti-nuke nuns return to crime scene with a treaty and a Nobel Prize,” The Denver Post, 20 October 2017
Marie-Danielle Smith, “‘Astonishing’: Justin Trudeau criticized for not congratulating Nobel Peace Prize winners, keeping Canada out of nuclear treaty,” The National Post, 26 October 2017
Daniel R. Mahanty, "We're loosening the rules for killing. This won't end well," USA Today, 30 October 2017
Thaera Badran, Aurélie Beaujolais, and Luc Lamprière, Everywhere the bombing followed us, Handicap International, October 2017
Frank Slijper, Where to draw the line: Increasing Autonomy in Weapon Systems – Technology and Trends, PAX, 12 November 2017
Andrew Smith, “Yemen Is On The Verge Of The World's Largest Famine - Time For May To Stop Fuelling The War,” Huffington Post, 16 November 2017
Felicity Ruby, “Minding the Gap,” Arena Magazine, November 2017