April 2018 E-News


Over the last several weeks the intersections between technology, weapons, and conflict has been a recurring theme across many of the disarmament and arms control fora that Reaching Critical Will monitors. New technologies in small arms production, as well as in marking and tracing, is a clear priority for states as they prepare for a review conference of the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons in June. The weaponisation of autonomous technologies, including artificial intelligence, poses new conceptual challenges for states as they seek legal solutions to ensure human control across the many stages of developing and using weapons. In just a few days, states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will gather for a preparatory committee. The NPT is meant to, along with other objectives, lead to nuclear disarmament—an objective disdainfully rejected by nuclear-armed states that are leveraging technological advancements to modernise their arsenals, as outlined in our new report.  A common denominator? Choice. We have a choice between using technology for "good" or for "bad", if we use it to develop ways to make our lives easier, or to take life. 

Learn about these meetings, and much more, in this April edition of our E-News.

In this edition

  • WILPF launches a new nuclear ban treaty resource guide
  • In Australia, UK, and Italy, WILPF mobilises against nuclear violence
  • Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner releases poetry work on the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands
  • More countries sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty
  • Small arms conference sets stage for review in June
  • New countries join call for a ban on autonomous weapons
  • Upcoming events
  • Featured news
  • Recommended reading

WILPF launches a new nuclear ban treaty resource guide

resource guide coverWILPF recently published a new resource guide on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and accompanied its launch with a webinar. WILPF staff, sections, and members have been active and vocal supporters of the ban for over a decade, following on consistent antinuclear organising and advocacy since the dawn of the nuclear age. This resource guide is meant to help the movement carry on with that work, through working with governments and others in civil society to ensure the Treaty’s rapid entry-into-force and effective implementation. Available in English, French, and Spanish, it provides an overview of what the Treaty includes, examples of past work, suggestions for future action, and where to find further information. In the coming weeks, WILPF will publish a series of infographics to supplement the resource guide.

In Australia, UK, and Italy, WILPF mobilises against nuclear violence 

WILPF members across the movement have been mobilising against nuclear weapons and violence through awareness-raising, trainings, and direct action over the last several weeks. 

Rad TourReaching Critical Will’s Director Ray Acheson, along with campaigners from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and environmental activists, embarked on a Radioactive Exposure Tour that Friends of the Earth Australia has been organising for the past 30 years. Designed to bring people from around Australia to meet local activists at various nuclear testing sites, the “Rad Tour” provides a profoundly unique opportunity to learn about the land, the people, and the nuclear industry in the most up-front and personal way. This year’s tour featured visits to uranium mines, bomb test sites, and proposed radioactive waste dumps on Arabunna, Adnyamathanha, and Kokatha land in South Australia, and introduced urban-based activists to the people that are directly confronting the nuclear industry in rural or lesser-populated areas. The journey of ten days took the group to many places and introduced them to many people, and was loosely grouped into three themes: bombing, mining, and dumping. “Each of these aspects of the nuclear chain is stained with racism, militarism, and capitalism. Each represents a piece of a dirty, dangerous, but ultimately dying nuclear industry. And each has been and continues to be met with fierce resistance from local communities, including Traditional Owners of the land,” writes Ray Acheson in her account of the tour. 

WILPF UKWILPF UK organised a "lobbying training day” on 7 April. The purpose of the training was to prepare individuals to lobby their MPs for the UK to become the first nuclear-armed state to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It combined substantive presentations about the treaty with an interactive training workshop led by Rebecca Johnson, of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, and Janet Fenton of WILPF-UK’s Scottish branch, on communication skills, lobbying methods, and campaign strategies.

The Italian section of WILPF has finalised its plans to promote nuclear disarmament this year. On 1 May, at a concert organised by trade unions in Rome, WILPF-Italy will carry out an intervention on the need for ratification of the nuclear weapon ban treaty. They are also planning nonviolent actions to oppose the modernisation of the military bases of Ghedi, where US nuclear bombs are kept, and Camp Darby, the biggest US logistics base in Europe. WILPF-Italy plans to provide seminars at universities on the subject of nuclear weapons and the environment with the aim of increasing youth activism, and will be participating in COP24 in Poland to draw attention to the environmental impact of nuclear weapons.

Beyond WILPF, women across the US have been taking a stance against nuclear weapons. Following a conference organised by the Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) in October 2017, eight states introduced resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Congress to decentralise the US President’s nuclear authority between January and March 2018—California, Georgia, Vermont, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Iowa. Almost all of these resolutions are sponsored by women.

In the early hours of 5 April, seven anti-nuclear weapon activists were arrested inside the Kings Bay Naval Base in the southern US, while they were carrying out a nonviolent action. The members of the Kings Bay Plowshares, as the group is called, are Elizabeth McAlister, Mark Colville, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Stephen Kelly, Patrick O’Neil, and Carmen Trotta. In a statement the activists delivered on site they condemned the American militarism and nuclear weapons: “The United States has embraced a permanent war economy. ‘Peace through strength’ is a dangerous lie in a world that includes weapons of mass destruction on hair-trigger alert. Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage, and dumping, primarily on indigenous native land. This weapons system is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet.” The seven activists were denied bond at their 6 April hearing and remain imprisoned in the Camden County Detention Facility, where they can receive postcards of support.    

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner releases new poetic work on the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands

Poet and ICAN campaigner Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands has written a series of heart-wrenching poems on her two-week voyage by canoe with Okeanos - Foundation for the Sea to Enewetak, Runit, and Bikini, sites of the devastating US nuclear testing between 1948-1958. The last in her trilogy of Dome Poems Anointed is accompanied by a video directed by Dan Lin and produced by Pacific Resources for Education and Learning. Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Dan Lin hope that this short film will serve as a call to action to join the movement to ban nuclear weapons, and will draw attention to the ongoing impact of the nuclear tests on the environment and the local community. The United States tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands and the contaminated waste from those explosions was dumped in a dome on what remains of Runit Island in Enewetak Atoll. The population of Runit Island today depends on funding from the United States because the radioactivity limits their economic possibilities. Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner wanted to highlight local voices in her work and during her visit she engaged in community discussions and conducted a writing workshop with the island’s youth.

More countries sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

On 22 March Palestine ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and a few days later on 27 March Venezuela followed suit, with Venezuelan Ambassador Samuel Moncada (pictured) stating “For our country, the threat of use or the use of nuclear weapons is unjustifiable, illegal and immoral. We therefore believe that the use of nuclear weapons represents a flagrant violation of international law and international humanitarian law, which in turn constitutes a war crime, in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute.” There are reports that Ecuador is preparing to ratify the TPNW, and on 16 April the President of Bolivia Evo Morales signed it. March also saw the parliaments of Austria and Costa Rica voting unanimously in favour of the Treaty and thereby completing most domestic ratification procedures. At the time of publication, 58 countries have signed and seven countries have ratified the TPNW, which will enter into force when 50 UN member states ratify it.

Small arms conference sets stage for review in June

SAM9.3 coverStates met from 19-23 March 2018 as part of a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the Third Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons In All Its Aspects (PoA) that will take place in June 2018. A wide range of topics were touched upon at the PrepCom, including the divisive issue of adding ammunition to the scope of the PoA, adapting to technological developments in firearm manufacturing and marking, preventing diversion of small arms and light weapons, improving international cooperation and assistance in implementation efforts, taking advantage of synergies with other instruments such as the Arms Trade Treaty and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and incorporating gender perspectives and women’s participation in PoA implementation. However, despite many content-rich statements it is unclear how or if the ideas expressed will be taken up in concrete ways at the Review Conference.

One issue that the majority of states expressed support for was to improve women’s participation in the PoA process, as well as the need to apply a gender sensitive approach to small arms control measures. An “elements document” provided by the conference chair Ambassador Jean-Claude Brunet includes a section on “Gender, including UNSC resolution 1325 and the impacts of illicit trade in SALW on women, men, girls and boys”. It is hoped that the many contributions of member states on this subject, will be advanced in a meanginful way during the Review Conference. This topic was discussed further at a side event organised by the IANSA Women’s Network, “From Words to Action: Women’s Participation in Small Arms Control”. WILPF’s Allison Pytlak was one of the panelists at the side event where she identified three key areas of work for states to consider: increasing awareness of the disproportionate and differentiated impacts of small arms and light weapons (SALW) on different genders, understanding the social and structural aspects of gender and how they influence disarmament processes including within the UN, and achieving women’s meaningful participation in disarmament efforts at all levels.

New countries join call for a ban on autonomous weapons

Austria, China, Colombia, and Djibouti joined the group of countries calling for a ban on autonomous weapons, during the April meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on this issue. The global movement to retain meaningful human control over the use of force gained significant momentum at this meeting; the growing list of countries calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons now stands at 26. African countries as a group expressed their support for a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.

 CCW UNThe Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering committee member, urges states to  be explicit that meaningful human control is required over the critical functions of target selection and engagement, and for each individual attack. Weapon systems that operate without such human control should be prohibited. WILPF was represented at the meeting by Sylvie Ndongmo of WILPF Cameroon, Lenka Filipova of the WILPF Secretariat in Geneva, and Allison Pytlak, manager of Reaching Critical Will. The team provided monitoring and analysis throughout the week, available here. Ms. Ndongmo provided a live television interview on TV5Monde, and Ms. Pytlak spoke at a side event about lessons learned from discussions on cyber security and conflict that could be applicable to the process of  autonomous weapons.  WILPF’s statement to the conference underscored the urgency of taking action on this issue before it becomes too late, and the lack of gender diversity among conference delegates.

During the week-long April meeting, states also reaffirmed the centrality of international humanitarian law (IHL). There was discussion of alternatives to a new legal framework, including codes of conduct or guides, better sharing of national practice, and a political declaration. An expert panel highlighted “potential military applications of related technologies”. Over 80 countries participated in the meeting.

The GGE meets again from 27-31 August in Geneva, and will need to report its decisions to the next meeting of high contracting parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the treaty which mandated the Group, in November.

Upcoming events

IPB Days of Action on Military Spending

April 14 to 3 May, Global

2018 NPT Preparatory Committee

23 April - 4 May 2018, Geneva

Organisational meeting for the 2018 high-level conference on nuclear disarmament

10 May 2018, New York

2018 high-level conference on nuclear disarmament

14-16 May 2018, New York

Third Review Conference on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons

18-29 June 2018, New York

Featured News

P-3 bomb chemical weapons sites in Syria following toxic gas attack against civilians

Another suspected chemical weapons attack took place on 7 April in the besieged city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. Medics and rescue workers reported treating civilians suffering from symptoms of a toxic gas attack, and estimated that at least 300 people were affected, many of whom were civilians hiding in bomb shelters. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on 9 April to discuss the chemical weapons attack, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Fact Finding Mission (FFM) team started its investigation in Syria on 14 April. The US, UK, and France responded by carrying out airstrikes in the early hours of 14 April on Syrian government sites they believe are used for its chemical weapons program; a scientific research facility in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility, and a chemical weapons equipment storage site.

US Senate votes to continue supporting Saudi-led attacks in Yemen

The US Senate voted down a bipartisan resolution that would have ended the indirect involvement of the US in the war in Yemen by a margin of 55-44 on 20 March. This means the US can continue to provide support to Saudi Arabia in the form of intelligence-sharing and refueling the planes carrying out indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen. The same day as the Senate vote, President Trump met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and spoke publicly about US arms sales, worth US $12.5 billion, to the country—which is the biggest client of US arms exports. US allies Canada and France have both recently defended their own arms transfers to Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International urges European states to refrain from assisting in unlawful US drone strikes

In its new report Deadly Assistance: The role of European states in US drone strikes, Amnesty International analyses the operational and intelligence assistance provided by the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy to the US drone programme. It is calling on these countries to withhold assistance from US drone operations as the operations likely violate international law, and for the Trump administration to disclose information about reported changes to its policy on the use of lethal force abroad. Amnesty International is particularly concerned that the dramatic increase of drone strikes under President Trump and the loosening of rules of engagement create a greater risk of civilian casualties and unlawful killings.

President Trump announces new arms export policy

The Trump administration aims to boost arms sales to US allies through a new conventional arms transfer policy that will expedite the export approval process and will allow senior officials, including the President, to play a greater role in closing foreign arms sales. This includes a new drones export policy, which will reportedly remain classified, but will also include “fast-track treatment” to allied countries, the ability for companies to sell directly to another state without US government presence, and the elimination of higher scrutiny for drones with laser-designator technology, which could be used for military targeting. According to Rachel Stohl, director of the conventional arms program at the Stimson Center, this represents a “fundamental shift” in the way the US sells large armed drones.

Hundreds of thousands of people protest gun violence at student-led March for Our Lives

The March for Our Lives led by the student survivors of the 14 February mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida gathered an estimated 800,000 people at its Washington, DC rally according to the organisers. Approximately 800 partner events took place across the United States and the world. The anti-gun violence protest has been described as the biggest youth protest since the Vietnam war. The students are now calling for another nation-wide walkout on 20 April, National Student Walkout Day, and are emphasising the importance of voter registration targeting youth, vowing to vote any politician who does not support stricter gun control out of office.

Inter-Korea summit will focus on peace on the peninsula

The third inter-Korea summit since the 1950-53 Korean War is scheduled to take place on 27 April and will be attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. North Korea and the US are also planning a bilateral summit for sometime in May or June. A spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said the inter-Korea summit agenda would include “denuclearisation, establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula and improving North-South relations”, and it has been reported that the two leaders will discuss plans to officially end the military conflict between North and South Korea. WILPF is part of a global coalition of women peacemakers that has been urging government officials to support a diplomatic solution to the conflict and to include women in the negotiations in order to increase the likelihood of a sustainable peace for the Korean Peninsula.

The future of the Iran deal remains uncertain as 12 May deadline looms

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), frequently referred to as the “Iran deal”, was agreed upon in 2015 by the US and Iran, as well as the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and it involves Iran restricting its nuclear program and allowing close international monitoring of it, in exchange for sanctions being lifted. Every 120 days, if Iran has been in compliance with the JCPOA provisions, the President of the United States will sign a waiver of the pre-deal sanctions against Iran. President Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the JCPOA and says he will not sign the next waiver on 12 May, which would render the US in breach of the agreement. The European signatories have been trying to persuade the Trump administration to remain in the agreement. 

Recommended reading

Reaching Critical Will, Assuring Destruction Forever: 2018 Edition, April 2018

Lucy Suchman, “Unpriming the pump: Remystifications of AI at the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons,” Robot Futures, 7 April 2018

John Lindsay-Poland, “America’s guns: Made in the US, killing in Mexico,” Al Jazeera, 28 March 2018

Brad S. Karp and H. Christopher Boehning, “Stop Shielding Gun Makers,” New York Times, 24 March 2018

Mark Bromley and Giovanna Maletta, “The conflict in Yemen and EU’s arms export controls: Highlighting the flaws in the current regime,” SIRPI, 16 March 2018

Reaching Critical Will, 2018 NPT Briefing Book, March 2018