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May 2011


For Reaching Critical Will, the month of May is usually consumed with meetings of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This time last year, we were deep in the middle of the Review Conference. In 2011, having a “break” from the NPT gives us a chance for reflection on the state of affairs. (It also means we get to enjoy the springtime in New York and Geneva.) However, it should not mean that we take a break from thinking about and working on the ever-more urgent matter of eliminating nuclear weapons.

As an innovative step in the UN’s small arms and light weapons process , government experts recently gathered in New York to exchange their views on the challenges and opportunities for implementing the International Tracing Instrument, which covers subjects such as marking, keeping records on, and tracing weapons. The meeting of government experts, or MGE, was dynamic and interactive and allowed for a refreshingly frank discussion of some of the problems states face in keeping track of “legal” weapons and figuring out what to do with captured “illegal” weapons. It also provided a glimpse at how intergovernmental meetings could function in the nuclear field.

While the MGE did not necessarily solve all of the problems raised by delegates (and indeed, there are questions about how the discussions will be turned into concrete, implementable steps), it did open up dialogue on key issues that allowed governments to give each other helpful suggestions and offer assistance to one another. The interactive dialogue, facilitated by the Chair’s active engagement with each delegation’s intervention, brought many specific requests, problems, and recommendations to light.

It is difficult to monitor a meeting like this and not draw contrasts to the ongoing floundering in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) or the recent failings of the Disarmament Commission. In the CD in particular, after more than a decade of stalemate, delegations continue to deliver national statements, repeat the same talking points, and fail to truly engage with the substance of each other’s remarks—largely because everyone knows what everyone else will say anyway. At the MGE on small arms, delegations were able to learn something about what was going on inside other countries and to make suggestions on how to deal with specific problems. While the small arms control and nuclear disarmament processes are different, it is hard to believe that the CD cannot be an interactive forum in which solutions to the current stalemate can be found. All delegates understand the stakes and the positions. It’s past time for them to start engaging with each other, in a public and transparent forum, to see what solutions they can collectively come up with.

The UN Secretary-General  recently warned that the CD “will sink unless it fulfills its responsibility to act.” If positions are too hardened for such a discussion to bear fruit, it could spell the end for the Conference. However, given the number of times the CD has been “put on notice,” it’s unclear when or how the decision will be made. It will also be a challenge to ensure that the overwhelming demand for concrete nuclear disarmament, rather than mere incremental non-proliferation steps, can be pursued in any subsequent negotiating arrangement. The MGE showed how governments can work together to solve practical problems; we should hold the CD to no less of a standard.

In peace,
Ray Acheson, RCW Project Director

Small arms meeting breaks new ground
From 9 to 13 May 2011, states gathered for the first time in an open-ended meeting of government experts (MGE) to address key implementation challenges and opportunities in the UN small arms process. This particular MGE focused on the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons, in accordance with the International Tracing Instrument that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005.

The chair of the MGE, Ambassador Jim McLay of New Zealand, drafted six discussion papers on each of the key themes for the meeting:

1. Marking;

2. Record-keeping;

3. Cooperation in tracing;

4. National frameworks;

5. Regional cooperation; and

6. International assistance and capacity building.

The goal of the papers, and the MGE itself, was to support states’ sharing of information, experiences, lessons learned, good practices, and challenges and opportunities, with the goal of supporting enhanced national and regional implementation of the International Tracing Instrument.

The uniquely interactive format of the meeting allowed this to happen. The Chair did his utmost to facilitate conversation between delegates at this meeting, by asking questions of delegates after nearly ever intervention, organizing special presentations by relevant UN and government agencies at the commencement of each thematic topic, and encourage delegates to connect with one other, particular over assistance and cooperation opportunities. This level of interaction was rare for a UN arms control meeting and provided an excellent template for future meetings—not just MGEs, but hopefully other UN conferences as well.

The MGE provided a good opportunity to continue building the frameworks for a more robust implementation of the UN Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, as well as for negotiation of an arms trade treaty (ATT). Many of the key topics discussed at this MGE will relate to technical considerations in the context of the UN conference for negotiating an international ATT. While the MGE will relate specifically to small arms and light weapons, there are clear connections to be made between the best practices and modes of cooperation highlighted here and what could be promoted in an ATT.

Reaching Critical Will of WILPF monitored and reported on the MGE along with Global Action to Prevent War, the International Action Network on Small Arms, Oxfam International, and other non-governmental organizations. Our reports are available on the joint NGO arms trade treaty blog (http://attmonitor.posterous.com/) and in an “MGE Monitor” posted on the Reaching Critical Will website in PDF and distributed in hard copy at the MGE. You can also find relevant documents on the RCW site and the official UN website for the MGE. Elements of the outcome document are available online; a final report will be issued soon.

UN Disarmament Commission fails for 12th consecutive year

On Thursday, 21 April 2011, the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) held its final plenary meeting of the 2011 session, which also marked the final meeting of the latest three year cycle. For the twelfth year in a row, as noted by the European Union in its closing remarks, the Commission was unable to agree to substantive recommendations on any of its three topics.

Member states adopted the final report of the Commission along with the reports of the three working groups: nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, a declaration of the 2010s as the next disarmament decade, and confidence-building measures around conventional weapons. All three reports end with the note that the working group was unable to achieve consensus.

In their closing remarks, several delegations, including Cuba, Mexico, Norway, Spain, and Sweden, expressed concern with the lack of substantive results from the UNDC. While many praised the deliberative nature of the Commission’s work, they also criticized its failure to fulfill its whole mandate, which includes adopting recommendations. The Mexican delegation argued that this paralysis is “inadmissible” when the world is “threatened by nuclear weapons and excessive accumulation of destabilizing conventional weapons.” It concluded that the only tangible consequence of the UNDC has been the expenditure of resources provided by taxpayers around the world.

See also a final report from Dr. Robert Zuber from Global Action to Prevent War.

Conference on Disarmament resumes its 2011 session
On Tuesday, 17 May, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) opened the second part of its 2011 session with a plenary meeting that mostly discussed the possible expansion of its membership (see RCW’s CD Report). The CD will devote the coming week to more informal thematic debates on fissile materials and negative security assurances. However, agreeing on a programme of work or starting concrete negotiations in the CD still does not appear to be likely this year.  RCW will continue to report on the CD and advocate for solutions to break the deadlock. RCW is also posting all statements and documents from the Conference and provides reports after each plenary meeting. Subscribe today to make sure you stay up to date with this multilateral disarmament negotiating body.

Time to register for the third Arms Trade Treaty meeting
The third session of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT PrepCom) will take place in New York from 11 to 15 July 2011. This session will build on the work undertaken during the second session, which was held in March 2011. 

The information for participation by non-governmental organizations to the third session of ATT PrepCom is available online; please note that if your organization was accredited to the other PrepComs, it does not need to apply for accreditation again, but must register its participants by 4 July 2011. Please consult the aide memoire for further details.

NGO statements on nuclear energy

Statement from the Australian National Nuclear Free Movement Conference, 8 April 2011

Video from the Australian Conservation Foundation

English translation of a letter sent from the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization sent to the Japanese government and TEPCO, 21 April 2011

Joint Statement on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on the occasion of the 25th anniversary for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, 26 April 2011

Statement by Abolition 2000 on the nuclear crisis in Japan and around the world, 26 April 2011

Upcoming Events
Global Day of Action Against Gun Violence
13–19 June 2011 | Global

The Week of Action highlights the international campaign to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. Last year saw a wide variety of successful activities including a signature collection campaign in support of an ethically principled ATT, international football stars joining the Gun-Free World Cup campaign and promotion of the Disarm Domestic Violence campaign. See theInternational Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) for more information.

Global Network 29th Annual Space Organizing Conference
17–19 June 2011 | Andover, Massachusetts, USA

2011 marks the 19th anniversary of Global Network’s organizing efforts to build an international constituency to Keep Space for Peace.  Each year we gather to share the latest international developments on Pentagon and aerospace industry plans for the militarization of space.  We approach this conference with clarity that U.S. “missile defense” programs are actually key elements in overall Pentagon first-strike planning.   The Raytheon Company, which had 2009 sales of $25 billion, is a leading builder and promoter of the missile “offense” program.  Headquartered in Massachusetts, Raytheon has a manufacturing plant in Andover that builds the Patriot (PAC-3) system that is now being used by the Pentagon to help encircle Russia and China. Get the full conference program, schedule, and registration brochure at http://www.space4peace.org/.

Nuclear Abolition Day
25 June 2011 | Global

On 25 June thousands of people around the world will take part in coordinated actions for a treaty banning all nuclear weapons. The leaders of the five nuclear weapon states – the US, Russia, Britain, France and China – are meeting in Paris a few days later, and we must send a loud and clear message to them and to other government leaders: Now is the time to begin negotiations on a nuclear abolition treaty. ICAN has developed a website where you can register your actions. We also offer a number of action ideas, some taking as little as 10 minutes. Even if you’re short of time, there’s no reason why you can’t take part! Seehttp://www.nuclearabolition.org/ for details.

Featured News
134 Indian activists detained on way to protest at Jaitapur nuclear power plant
134 activists were detained in the jurisdiction of the Voisar police station (near Tarapur in Maharashtra) on their way to Jaitapur. Local citizens living in the Jaitapur area have been protesting against their impending eviction due to the plant. (Source: PUCL Kanataka; also see The Hindu). This came days after one person was killed and eight injured at a protest at Jaitapur. (Source: The Times of India)

US firms bid to run UK nuclear weapons site
A group of private companies has bid to take over the running of the Royal Navy arms base at Coulport on the Clyde, where nuclear warheads are stored. The Atomic Weapons Establishment, led by the US firm Lockheed Martin, said a decision was expected within months. (Source: BBC)

UN to host summit on nuclear safety and security
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a high-level meeting on strengthening the global nuclear safety regime and ensuring maximum nuclear safety standards. The meeting is scheduled to take place on 22 September 2011 at the UN in New York. (Source:IPS)

Congressional panel votes to limit Obama’s ability to reduce nuclear weapons under New START
The House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment that says the administration may not spend money to retire weapons until the defense and energy secretaries submit to Congress a modernization plan for the remaining weapons. The vote was 35-26. The amendment ties the hands of Obama and future presidents to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal. (Source: Washington Post)

Decision still pending on the case against the construction of a new plutonium pit factory at Los Alamos
After two days of the hearing, which addressed the Los Alamos Study Group’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction to stop expenditures on the project until a brand-new environmental impact statement is completed, the judge called a recess, stating she would review all the arguments and evidence before ruling on the opposing motions.  (Source: LASG, Santa Fe New Mexican)

“Friends of the NPT” meet in Berlin
The Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands,
Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates met in Berlin to discuss their support for an incremental approach to achieving nuclear disarmament and strengthening the non-proliferation regime. Their outcome statement is available online.

Newark Peace Education Summit was held on 13-15 May
The Summit focused on peacebuilding and conflict resolution and featured several Nobel Peace Laureates and peace activists from around the world. (Source: http://www.newarkpeace.org/)

Recommended Reading
H. Patricia Hynes, “How Many Chernobyls Before We Get It?” Truthout, 18 April 2011.

Dennis Carroll, “Six decades after Trinity Site blast, area residents living with fallout with no help from government,” The New Mexican, 17 April 2011.

Jeff Goodell, “America’s Nuclear Nightmare,” Rolling Stone, 27 April 2011.

Praful Bidwai, “Clear and present danger,” Hindustan Times, 1 May 2011.

Martin Butcher, “Libya throws a spotlight on European arms sales,” Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, 2 May 2011.

Ban Ki-moon, “Dysfunctional Disarmament,” Project Syndicate, 18 May 2011.