August 2019 E-News

In August, we commemorated the horror of the two atomic bombings on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 74 years ago. 

Every single year, we in the disarmament community underscore that the danger of nuclear weapons will continue to prevail as long as they exist. 

A few powerful military states continue to deny the unimaginable threat that the continued existence of nuclear weapons pose to all of humanity and life on earth. Commemorations this year were held amid concerns about an accelerated arms race following the unraveling of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) earlier this year, as well as on-going testing and modernisation programmes. 

But there is a way to make sure that this never happens again. The Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reached an important milestone in August with the ratifications of two states, bringing the total number to 25—half of what is required for the Treaty to enter into force. It is clear that the TPNW is well on its way to becoming international law, and continues to provide hope in a time of turmoil. 

As Mayor Taue of Nagasaki observed in this year’s Peace Declaration, “The atomic bombs were built by human hands and exploded over human heads. It follows that nuclear weapons can be eliminated by an act of human will”.

In this edition

     Commemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On 6 and 9 August 1945, the United States detonated two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This year marks 74 years since one of the most catastrophic events in history. The bombings killed more than 210,00 people and their effects last to this day.

As every year, during these sad days of remembrance, activists, scholars, politicians, diplomats, and the hibakusha, those that have suffered the long-term consequences of the atomic bombing, joined forces in raising awareness about the catastrophic humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need to abolish them.

Those commemorating the bombings showed creativity and commitment in how they chose to remember. Some participated in an annual international Hiroshima commemoration fast; others were active on social media, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and others provided public talks, including RCW’s Director Ray Acheson. She delivered the keynote speech at Hiroshima Day at the City Hall Peace Garden in Toronto, which was hosted by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Day Coalition. Her remarks highlighted the connection between the bombings and the negative forces of patriarchy, white supremacy, and the ideology of power through violence.

Mayor Matsui of Hiroshima delivered this year's Peace Declaration at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony.Mayor Taue of Nagasaki delivered the city’s Peace Declaration at the Nagasaki Peace Ceremony. Both mayors used the memorial ceremony to call on governments to immediately sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 

ICAN Australia

Indeed, the TPNW is the only viable way to make sure that this never happens again. The new report Choosing Humanity: why Australia must join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by ICAN Australiasets out in detail the case for Australia to join the TPNW. The report includes contributions from experts, lawyers, faith groups, nuclear test survivors, partners, unions and parliamentarians, demonstrating the diversity of support for the ban.

Thankfully, other states need less convincing and this month, we made it half-way through to the required 50 ratifications before the Treaty can enter into force! In the past weeks, both Bolivia and St Vincent and the Grenadines have submitted their instruments of ratification, and we welcome them to the nuclear ban treaty family! 

26 September is the next big occasion for countries to express their commitment to the TPNW as part of a special ceremony at which states can sign the Treaty or submit instruments of ratification. The 26th is also the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, on which the president of the General Assembly will convene a one-day high-level plenary meeting. Interested stakeholders are encouraged to apply here to participate in the event, with a registration deadline of 23 August. 
(Picture credit: ICAN Australia)

     Next round of UN meetings on killer robots just around the corner

The Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), on lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) will resume its work on 20-21 August, preceded by an informal consultation on 19 August. 

The first round of UN talks on autonomous weapon systems ended on 29 March without significant movement.  Since then, the chair of this year’s GGE, Mr. Ljupco Jivan Gjorgjinski of North Macedonia, held various informal consultations throughout the summer.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering CSKR Picturecommittee member, notes the current draft recommendations, which form the basis of discussion in August, fall short. They prioritise legal, operational, and technical aspects over ethical, human rights, humanitarian, and security concerns. The recommendations propose that the GGE continue to meet over the next two years toward taking a decision in 2021 to later negotiate a normative framework.  While a minority of military powers continue to reject calls for the negotiation of a new treaty that would regulate or ban the development of killer robots, a growing number of tech workers, AI experts and companies support the call to ban killer robots. The outcome from the August meeting will be presented to high-contracting parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) for adoption at their annual meeting in November, which means the August meetings are highly significant for the future of this issue in the CCW context. 

As part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, RCW will continue to urge states to take bold leadership and listen to the voices of tech workers, AI experts, the UN Secretary-General, Nobel Laureates, and civil society, by launching negotiations on a new ban treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force. 

Throughout the August meeting, RCW will provide analysis and reporting of the meetings in its CCW Report (subscribe here), and provide live updates via its Twitter account, @RCW_.
(Picture credit: Campaign to Stop Killer Robots)

     Upcoming Arms Trade Treaty conference to focus on gender and gender-based violence 

From 26–30 August, states parties, observers, civil society, and others will meet in Geneva for the Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The thematic focus of this CSP will be on gender and gender-based violence (GBV). It is anticipated that states parties will adopt a series of decisions intended to strengthen gender diversity and improve implementation of the ATT’s criterion on GBV, based on a draft prepared by CSP5 President Janis Karklins of Latvia.

Reaching Critical Will participated in the two preparatory and working group meetings earlier this year. There has been noticeable progress in the depth and breadth of what is being said in the working groups and preparatory meetings about gender and gender-based violence (GBV). If the draft decisions are adopted at CSP5 it will be important that words are followed by long-term and sustained action, which is true for all aspects of ATT implementation, particularly as exports continue to flow into contexts of armed conflict and violence.  

RCW Women Weapons and WarWILPF always seeks to ensure that local and national experiences from those that are affected by armed conflict and violence are heard and included in discussions at the UN. At CSP5, colleagues from national sections in Colombia, Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of Congo will join RCW staff. They will all feature as panelists in a WILPF side event on 26 August by offering national perspectives on preventing GBV through arms control. Many will also present in other events and activities throughout the week. 

RCW will also regularly publish the ATT Monitor (subscribe here), post available statements and conference documents, and keep you up-to-date from its Twitter account, @RCW_. 


     Cyber peace, feminism, and human rights: WILPF engages in UN cyber security processes

WILPF is increasingly concerned by the militarisation of cyber space and is engaging in processes and steps that support progress toward cyber peace.

In August, RCW published a fact sheet on the subject that outlines organisational views on the subject. The fact sheet outlines key issues of debate and concern and describes the various multilateral processes that are underway to address cyber threats. It highlights the importance of human rights considerations and feminist perspectives. A fuller policy brief on cyber peace will be published later this year. 

On 14 August, RCW’s programme manager Allison Pytlak participated in a civil society consultation with members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C. This was a side event to the OAS consultation that occurred on 15-16 August, which is one of six regional consultations mandated as part of the newly constituted UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on responsible state behaviour in cyber space. Her remarks identified possible priority issues for OAS states to consider bringing to the GGE and highlighted in particular the need to challenge a national-security first approach within international cyber security dialogues, by emphasising the human impact of malicious cyber operations. She also spoke to the special role of civil society in this process, given the ubiquity of digital technologies in our lives; the necessity of “bottom-up” and on-going consultations with multiple stakeholders at all levels; and the importance of more precise study on how international law applies in cyber space.

WILPF will attend and monitor the first substantive session of the UN’s new Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications (ICTs) in the context of international security from 9-13 September. The deadline for accreditation has passed, but information on how civil society can attend future OEWG sessions can be found here. Click here to subscribe to RCW’s new monitor.

         Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meetings of Experts concluded

From 29 July to 8 August 2019, Reaching Critical Will participated in the Biological and Toxins Convention (BWC) Meetings of Experts (MXs) that convened for the second time in Geneva as part of the inter-sessional work programme between the five-yearly BWC Review Conferences.

The MXs allowed for in-depth and substantial interactive discussions on a broad range of related topics, owing to the detailed expert presentations presented ahead of almost each agenda item. Many delegations and the MX Chairs reiterated their hope that the outputs of the MXs would feed into the yearly Meetings of States Parties (MSPs). However, references to the MXs in the MSP’s final report of 2018 were, for the sake of consensus, stripped down to a bare minimum, merely noting that, “no consensus was reached on possible outcomes.” 

While there are some areas of increased convergence, such as under MX4 on assistance, response, and preparedness, long-held divisions continued to be obvious on other topics. Despite delegations’ expressed political will and commitment to strengthening the BWC, chances for convergence on topics such as institutional strengthening appear to be slim, risking, as the US delegation observed, for the BWC to “doom [itself] into irrelevance”. 

The Meetings also featured what is likely the first ever side event on gender in the context of the BWC. More participants than usual raised gender-related concerns throughout the MXs, joining the continued momentum taking place across various disarmament and arms control fora. 

If you want to learn more about the discussions, check out our report of the meetings here.

See here for more background on the BWC, read daily reports of the meetings here, and catch up here about what happened at last year’s Meeting of States Parties in December 2018. The meetings were also webcast, and can be re-watched here.

         RCW is turning 20! Share your favourite memories 

Time flies! Reaching Critical Will reaches its 20 year anniversary in 2019. Many amazing people have made RCW’s work meaningful and impactful over the course of two decades. If you have been part of RCW’s journey in one way or another, please contact us! Share your RCW-related memories, photos, achievements, highs and lows, by sending an email to [email protected] RCW will share the collection of memories as part of activities in October.

         Upcoming events

CCW Group of Governmental Experts on LAWS
20-21 August, Geneva

CCW Amended Protocol II Group of Experts
22 August, Geneva

CCW Protocol V Meeting of Experts
23 August, Geneva

ATT Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5)
26-30 August, Geneva

International Day Against Nuclear Tests
29 August

9th Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions
2-4 September, Geneva

First substantive session of the Open-ended working Group on developments in the field of ICTs in the context of international security
9-13 September, New York

UN General Assembly high-level general debate, 74thsession
24-30 September, New York

UN High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

26 September, New York

Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare
1-2 October, Vienna

2019 New Shape Forum: Weapons Governance
30 September – 1 October, Geneva

         Featured news

US administration abandons Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

On 2 August, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the United States had withdrawn from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, claiming that Russia was “solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.” The Russian government has denied any violations, claiming instead US missile defence systems in Russia to have been in violation of the INF. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned afterward that Russia will begin to develop short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles if the US begins to do so. 

The treaty's expiration now enables the US and Russia to resume development of their medium-range land-based arsenals. Currently, the US military plans to test a land-based cruise missile and a ballistic missile previously banned under the INF treaty between August and November of this year. 

Russian administration breaks silence on suspected nuclear missile explosion

An apparent explosion of a nuclear-powered cruise missile during a test claimed the lives of at least five nuclear specialists. A Kremlin spokesman said that “accidents, unfortunately, happen”. Local authorities reported a brief spike in radiation following the accidents while Russia’s Defense Ministry said radiation levels were normal. 

North Korea tests short-range ballistic missiles

North Korea has fired two missiles into the sea, its fifth such launch in recent weeks. The missiles are thought to be short range ballistic missiles, according to South Korea’s military. If the use of such missiles is confirmed it would be a breach of 11 UN Security Council resolutions. North Korea had expressed anger over US-South Korean military drills, stating that they violate agreements reached with the leaders from the US and South Korea.

The murder of more than thirty people killed in two mass shootings In El Paso and Ohio heightens calls for tighter US gun control 

mass shooting in a Walmart store in El Paso killed at least 22 people. The attack puts the US government at the centre of a storm of outrage over its racist recent comments, and decades-old failure to implement gun control in America. Authorities are investigating an anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant manifesto allegedly tied to the El Paso shooting suspect. 

Just hours later, at least nine people lost their lives in a second shooting in Dayton, Ohio. The suspect was killed by the police when they arrived at the scene.

The US administration blames the “glorification of violence,” but not guns. Gun violence in the US claims around 100 lives each day. Calls for tighter gun control have resurged yet again. The US government has reneged on earlier pledges to strengthen gun laws, having called previously for strengthening the federal background check system. In 2018, it signed legislation to increase federal agency data sharing into the system, but has resisted Democratic calls to toughen other gun control laws. 

US Senate fails to override US president’s vetoes of bills stopping Saudi weapons sales

The US Senate failed to override the US President’s vetoes of legislation passed by Congress that would have blocked the sales of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia. In efforts to overturn the Republican president’s vetoes, supporters failed well short of the two-thirds needed to override vetoes of legislation blocking additional weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. Earlier this year, the US administration said it would go ahead with more than $8 billion in military sales, sidestepping a congressional review process.

African Union Peace and Security Council issues strong statement in support of a political declaration to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas 

The African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council issued a strong, action-oriented statement indicating its support for a political declaration to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). In this statement the Council has “expressed support for an inclusive consultation process to develop a political declaration that addresses the impact of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas”. This statement is first on EWIPA from a regional institution. 

International Committee of the Red Cross launches app to celebrate 70 years of Geneva Conventions

70 years ago the Geneva Conventions, which set out important protections of persons in conflict, were adopted. To mark this milestone, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is launching a new digital app giving users access to key international humanitarian law (IHL) IHL treaties and texts, via mobile or tablet device, anywhere and anytime, whether online or offline.It provides access and reference, in multiple languages, to more than 75 treaties and other documents relating to IHL—most notably, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, the ICRC’s original and updated Commentaries on the Conventions and Additional Protocols, and the rules of customary IHL as identified by the ICRC’s 2005 study.

The US is developing AI missiles that can choose their own targets

The US military wants to equip itself with a new type of artificial intelligence-guided missile which will use AI smarts to pursue its targets, to be developed until 2021. While the US army already employs a missile which uses infrared sensors to locate and attack tanks at a range of around 200 meters, this new smart projectile could serve as a longer range option. The level of autonomy of this weapon isn’t clear. Its algorithms are intended to distinguish between friend and foe in battle zone situations that could contain civilians alongside military troops but a spokesman for the US army disputed that this will be a missile that can select its own target.

         Recommended reading

Stuart Maslen, Richard Tanter, Sue Wareham et al. (Gem Romuld ed.), “Choosing humanity: Why Australia must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia, July 2019

“Interview with Ray Acheson, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom,” Pressenza, 23 July 2019

Paul Rogers, “A winnable nuclear war: Trump revives his generals’ dreams,” openDemocracy, 25 July 2019

Rebecca Johnson, “Trump and Putin have killed off a vital nuclear treaty. Here’s how we fight back,” The Guardian, 2 August 2019

Lisa Martin, “Michael Kirby urges Australia to sign up to nuclear weapon ban treaty,” The Guardian, 4 August 2019

 “What do feminists think of nuclear weapons?” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 6 August 2019

 Alice Slater, “Hiroshima unlearned: Time to the truth about US-Russia relations and finally ban the bomb,” IDN-InDepthNews, 5 August 2019

Julie Bosman, Kate Taylor, Tim Arango,“A common trait among mass killers: hatred toward women,” The New York Times, 10 August 2019

 Nic Maclellan, “Lives well lived. The legacy of anti-nuclear campaigning in Tahiti,” Beyond Nuclear International, 11 August 2019

Abigail Ruane, “SDG 16: Governing for gender equality and peace? Or perpetual violence and conflict?”, Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2019

Vijay Mehta, “How not to go to war: Establishing Departments for Peace and Peace Centers worldwide”, New Internationalist Publications Ltd, 2019