March 2017 E-News
It’s less than two weeks until negotiations begin at the United Nations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons! This is an incredible moment that we have been working towards for a long time. Even getting to this point is a testament to the persistence and determination of civil society and committed individuals working in governments. What we develop together this year in terms of a legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons will be a feat of resistance, justice, and peace. There is still strong opposition from nuclear-armed states and some of their allies that include nuclear weapons in their security doctrines—but the ground we have taken so far by standing up together shows that we are a force to be reckoned with. We are banning the bomb!
In this edition:
- On the road to banning nuclear weapons
- Women's March to Ban the Bomb!
- Non-Proliferation Treaty meetings coming up
- Fissile materials expert preparatory group holds informal consultations
- ATT preparatory meeting focuses on the practical
- UN experts group on digital technology meets in Geneva
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended reading
On the road to banning nuclear weapons
We’re less than two weeks away to the start of negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons! The first round of negotiations will be held in NYC on 27–31 March. There was an organisational meeting on 16 February (see our report). We'll be producing daily news and analysis from the conference—you can subscribe now to receive updates. Subscribe to our nuclear weapon ban treaty list (note: if you are already subscribed to our First Committee Monitor or NPT News in Review lists, you will receive the reports.)
As a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), WILPF will be part of advocacy and actions around the UN before and during the negotiations. You can learn more about the negotiations and ICAN’s work at nuclearban.org and find out the latest about ICAN’s activities around the world with the ICAN blog! WILPF’s Ray Acheson and ICAN’s Tim Wright will also be blogging about the ban for The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Stay tuned for that before, during, and after negotiations!
In the meantime, check out WILPF’s latest publication on the ban treaty! This discussion paper gives our assessment of the necessary principles, prohibitions, and positive obligations for a strong treaty. Please share widely!
Women's March to Ban the Bomb!
WILPF is not only active in the conference room—we’re also planning a big public mobilisation in June on the margins of the second round of negotiations on the nuclear weapon prohibition treaty! In June 1982, hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators opposed to nuclear arms overwhelmed Central Park and midtown Manhattan. 35 years later, the Women’s March Ban the Bomb will bring together people of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, races, abilities, nationalities, cultures, faiths, political affiliations, and backgrounds to march and rally on Saturday, 17 June 2017 in New York City and around the world in support of negotiations taking place at the United Nations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Check out our Call to Action, become a partner, and prepare to join us in the streets in June!
The first Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will meet from 2-12 May 2017 in Vienna. Information is available for civil society on accreditation and registration, side events, presentations, and more. The deadline for organisational accreditation has passed; registration of individuals will be open from 18 March to 14 April.
Fissile materials expert preparatory group holds informal consultations
On 2–3 March 2017, states met at the UN in New York for informal consultations regarding the “high-level fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) expert preparatory group”. This group was established by a UN General Assembly resolution last year to bring together 25 states to meet in Geneva in 2017 and 2018 to make recommendations on substantial elements of a future FMCT. (The group’s composition is not yet finalised.) The informal consultations in New York invited all states, including those not invited to participate in the experts group, to give their views on the treaty and the process. The key topics covered in the consultations were the same as have been considered for the last 24 years in regards to an FMCT:
- Should this treaty ban only the production of future fissile materials, or should it also address existing stocks?
- Should the treaty also deal with transfer and acquisition of fissile materials?
- Should the treaty only cover weapons-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium, or other materials that are capable for use in nuclear weapons?
- What kind of verification provisions would be necessary for such a treaty?
The expert group will meet in Geneva in 2017 and 2018, operating by consensus and building upon twenty years of discussions within the Conference on Disarmament to produce recommendations to move forward with the negotiation of a cut-off treaty.
States parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) met on 16 February for an informal preparatory session meant to lay the groundwork for planning the next conference of states parties (CSP). Several countries—Sweden, France, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Finland, and the United Kingdom—have already provided or pledged up to $1.9 million towards the Voluntary Trust Fund (VTF), established in August 2016. There were also report backs from the meetings of the three working groups that had taken place the week before, and discussion about the proposed agenda for CSP3, which will take place in September 2017 in Geneva. On-going efforts to utilise the opportunity of ATT meetings to address problems posed by current arms transfers, led largely by civil society groups, continue to be stymied. The civil society network Control Arms has published a more detailed summary.
Two side events were convened to go more in-depth on treaty related issues. The first presented concrete examples of treaty assistance activities, as experienced by civil society and governments. The second reaffirmed the importance of international humanitarian law and human rights in arms transfer decision-making.
The third session of the fifth United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (UN GGE) took place 20–24 February 2017 in Geneva. Little is known is about what the most recent meeting covered, because the group—which includes 25 countries—is closed, but the expectation is that it would continue to advance the GGE’s mandate in the area of articulating of behavioural norms in cyberspace and promoting common understandings. Apparently there is a growing rift between what key states in the group such as the United States, Russia, and China want it to achieve. The group includes will report on its results at the 72nd session of the UNGA, in September 2017.
Conference on Disarmament
23 January–31 March 2017, Geneva, Switzerland
GGE on the UN Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures
13–17 March 2017, Geneva, Switzerland
Nuclear weapon ban treaty negotiations
27–31 March 2017, New York, USA
UN Disarmament Commission
3–21 April 2017, New York, USA
Dr. Bob Mtonga passes away
On 8 March, we and many other humanitarian disarmament campaigners around the world were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Bob Mtonga, a long-time member of ICAN’s international steering group. Charismatic, witty, and passionate, he will be much missed by all who had the privilege to know him. As a co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), he spoke regularly on the devastating health impacts of nuclear weapons and of armed violence more generally. A Zambian doctor, he would often relate stories about the dreadful toll of armed violence on his own patients. He played a prominent role in campaigns to secure the Arms Trade Treaty and the bans on landmines and cluster munitions. “Bob Mtonga was one of the most optimistic, dedicated, and irrepressible peace activists I’ve ever known. Nothing could get him down,” wrote John Loretz, the programme director at IPPNW, in a tribute. “He had a real knack for finding the kernels of truth in complicated arguments. He knew how diplomacy worked (and how it didn’t) ... He never wavered in his conviction that peaceful solutions were possible and worth the trouble.”
US nuclear force modernisation increases “kill power” by factor of three
A new article by Hans Kristensen and others in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reveals that the US nuclear forces modernization programme “has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three.”
US government cracks down on Japan’s possible participation in nuclear ban negotiations
Under the administration of Donald Trump, the United States has taken “a hard line” on Japan’s possible participation in the upcoming nuclear ban treaty negotiations, Kyodo News has reported. On the other hand, the Austrian foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, has expressed his hope that Japan will join the UN negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
UK parliamentarians criticise government for not participating in nuclear ban negotiations
The United Kingdom is failing to take its disarmament obligations seriously, the parliamentarian Caroline Lucas said on 16 March. She described its boycott of the UN negotiations as "reckless and irresponsible".
Australian public overwhelming supports a nuclear weapon ban treaty
An Ipsos poll conducted in March 2017 shows that three in four Australians think their government should support the UN negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, and only one in ten thinks it shouldn't.
Belgian parliament holds hearing on nuclear weapon ban treaty
On 14 March, parliamentarians questioned the foreign ministry about its decision to boycott upcoming negotiations. The government said that it could not support any initiative aimed at delegitimizing nuclear weapons, as nuclear weapons are essential for Belgium’s defence. Many Belgian parliamentarians have voiced their strong support for the UN process to prohibit nuclear weapons. The chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Dirk Van der Maelen of the Social Democrats, has tabled a resolution urging the government to attend the negotiations. No date has been set as yet for a vote on the resolution.
Indonesia explains its support for a nuclear weapon ban treaty
On 13 March, at a gathering of 35 nations from the Asia-Pacific region, the Indonesian foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, said that the UN negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons are especially important given the current global security climate.
Ireland urges all states to participate in nuclear ban talks
In Geneva on 8 March, Ireland's disarmament ambassador, Patricia O'Brien, urged all nations, including those with nuclear weapons, to participate in the UN nuclear disarmament negotiations beginning on 27 March. "Nuclear disarmament is a common goal, a common interest and a common duty. Abstention from multilateral negotiations does not bring about an absolution from this responsibility," she said. "A prohibition on nuclear weapons is a logical and moral imperative. It is also a legal imperative, stemming from article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) … The best way to protect the NPT is to implement it."
Trump administration looks to resume arms transfers to Saudi Arabia
The US State Department has approved a resumption of weapons sales that are linked to Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilians in Yemen. The proposal would reverse a decision made late in the Obama administration to suspend the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh, which leads a coalition conducting airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Saudi-led coalition’s recent use of Brazilian-made cluster munitions targets residential areas in Yemen
Amnesty International reports that the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia used cluster munitions in three residential areas of Saada City in Yemen. The munitions are manufactured by Brazil and this is the third confirmed use of these munitions in Yemen.
North Korea launches more missiles
North Korea launched four missiles that flew about 600 miles over land before splashing into the Sea of Japan on 6 March. Three landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, dropping about 200 miles from the coast. These tests came less than one month after North Korea tested a solid-fuel rocket that it claims is part of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.
Daesh may have used chemical weapons in Mosul
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has accused Daesh, or the Islamic State (ISIS), of carrying out a chemical weapons attack in Iraq. In a statement, the ICRC said that about twelve people were being treated for possible exposure to chemical weapons in a hospital. While the ICRC stressed at the time that tests had not yet proved conclusive, it found the symptoms of the hospitalized patients suggested that they had been exposed to mustard agent. Iraqi authorities first said that ISIS was behind the attack but later denied the use of the weapons at all.
Russia and China block UN Security Council resolution on Syria
Russia and China vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on some Syrian military officials and entities for dropping chlorine-filled barrel bombs on rebel-held areas in 2014 and 2015, according to a United Nations panel. The vote marked the seventh time since 2011 that Russian President Putin has stopped international sanctions, thereby protecting Syrian President Assad.
Microsoft calls for a ‘Digital Geneva Convention’
At a conference, the head of Microsoft called for the development of a Digital Geneva Convention to protect civilians from nation-state cyber attacks in times of peace.
Tim Wright, “Nuclear Weapons Don’t Belong in Anyone’s Hands,” The Nation, 15 February 2017
Vincent J. Intondi, “Standing With the Nonwhite World to Ban Nuclear Weapons,” Huffington Post, 15 February 2017
Rick Wayman, “A European Nuclear Weapon Alliance?” The New York Times, 15 March 2017
William D. Hartung, “Want to Make Budget Cuts? Start Here,” The New York Times, 17 March 2017
Elizabeth Renzetti, “The Cassandras are warning of nuclear doom—so why doesn’t Canada seem to care?” The Globe and Mail, 17 March 2017
Banning nuclear weapons: principles and prohibitions for a legally binding instrument, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, March 2017
Civil Society Engagement in Disarmament Processes: The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Ban, UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, March 2017