November E-News

It has been a busy three months since RCW published its last E-News in September! We have been active and present at a wide range of disarmament processes and meeting fora, as well as celebrating our 20th birthday as a programme of WILPF. 

Many of these processes are riddled with hypocrisy and double standards on the part of a few militarily powerful countries, but we continue to draw hope from those that want to make a real difference in the lives impacted by war, weapons, militarism, and violence. Just to name a few examples: we are two-thirds of the way to reaching the threshold for entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). There are now 30 states (and counting!) calling for a ban on killer robots, and a majority of countries have agreed that it is time to take political action to address the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive action in populated areas. 

In this edition you will find reporting on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) First Committee, the Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), and the first round of open consultations on a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). We’ve also got a look ahead at upcoming meetings on cyber security and a round-up of all the good work happening to promote the TPNW and stop killer robots!

In this edition

Norm erosion and hypocrisy at the UNGA First Committee

The 74th session of the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security came to a close on 8 November. This year’s work was significantly disrupted by the problematic relations between the United States (US) and Russia, as well as some of their allies. The US had denied visas to certain delegations, including from Russia and Iran, an issue that significantly delayed First Committee’s work. The problem could not be resolved, and as long as it persists, procedural issues will continue to threaten the substantive work of First Committee and other New York-based meetings. Despite all of this, the majority of states in First Committee took yet again a strong stance in favour of nuclear disarmament and other arms control and disarmament topics. For example, 119 UN member states voted in favour of the resolution on the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). There were also promising developments on gender that we began to mark in 2018. This year, 17 adopted resolutions call for women’s equal participation; stress the gendered impacts of weapon systems and armed violence; and/or underscore the need for gender considerations more broadly. An unprecedented 28 per cent of all adopted 2019 resolutions therefore include gender aspects. If you want to catch up on what happened, check out Reaching Critical Will’s weekly First Committee Monitor on a vast range of relevant topics. As every year, we have also collected all available statements, resolutions and voting records, and conference documents.

Celebrating 20 years of disarming the patriarchy

In the midst of the First Committee, RCW reached an important milestone: its 20th anniversary! To celebrate RCW, its achievements, highs and lows, and all the amazing people that have made RCW what it is today, we took to Twitter and Facebook to celebrate several “best of” moments throughout the week of 21 October. We also celebrated in New York by inviting “feminists in disarmament” to join together and mark the occasion. If you missed all the birthday buzz, you can read up on the virtual and real-world celebrations in our blog post. (Photo credit: Ari Beser)

Little progress made at CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties

The high contracting parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) held their annual meeting in Geneva from 13-15 November, where they discussed a range of issues including fully autonomous weapons, EWIPA,, incendiary weapons, and mines other than antipersonnel mines. As at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee there was a clash between those governments seeking to prevent humanitarian harm from weapons and those resisting any possible curtailment of the development or use of weapons.

Autonomous weapon systems was the most extensively discussed subject. Ultimately it was decided that the group of governmental experts (GGE) that the CCW has established on this issue will meet for only ten days in 2020 (22–26 June and 10–14 August) and tentatively for another 10–20 days in 2021. During these meetings, the GGE “is to explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.” The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a member, describes this goal as “convoluted and ambiguous” and reflects how the objections of a handful of military powers can stifle recommendations for multilateral action on a pressing issue.  

The only issue that emerged relatively unscathed by these dynamics is EWIPA, and that is because Austria and Ireland have kick-started a process outside of the CCW to carry discussions and action forward, as described further in this newsletter. 

First round of open consultations on a political declaration to address EWIPA concludes

Following the Vienna conference on protecting civilians in urban warfare in early October this year, on which we reported, states are finally getting serious about addressing the harm caused by the bombing and shelling of towns and cities. In Vienna, states agreed to work towards a political declaration to stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. This would build on a decade of advocacy from civil society, notably the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which WILPF is a steering group member, and other stakeholders. To that end, Ireland convened a first round of open consultations in Geneva on Monday, 18 November. 

It was attended by over 200 participants, in which 36 interventions were deliveed, with most offering substantive and practical proposals for the development of a political declaration. The high rate of attendance and engagement demonstrate states’ acknowledgement of the increased complexity of urban warfare and the devastating humanitarian impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Yet views differed on how to best address the issue. Read our summary report of the meeting here. You can also find all available documents and statements on our website. The next consultation will take place in mid-February 2020. 

First Conference on a nuclear and WMD-free zone in the Middle East opens in New York

The first Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) is taking place in New York from 18-22 November. 

The vision for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other WMDs was first put forth at the 1995 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) where a resolution on the topic was adopted, as part of other decisions that were taken by NPT states parties to extend the Treaty on an indefinite basis. Although the idea has been further developed in subsequent NPT RevCons, no tangible progress has occurred, and it has become a major source of frustration among NPT states parties with implications for the success of the upcoming 2020 RevCon. UN General-Assembly resolution 73/546, adopted in 2018, mandated the convening of this conference, which is taking place under the chairpersonship of Ambassador Sima Bahous of Jordan.

The conference’s general debate was open to civil society, although subsequent sessions—which will focus on possible elements for a nuclear- and WMD-free zone treaty—are not. During the general debate, many states highlighted the non-participation of Israel and the United States at the conference, noting that Israel is the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East region. States have also reinforced the significance of the 1995 resolution, and outlined views on desired outcomes from the conference. 

RCW will publish report on the conference following its conclusion later this week, although limited civil society access will make it challenging to provide full coverage.   

UN cyber security process opens for multi-stakeholder input

The UN’s Open-ended working group (OEWG) on on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security is having an informal intersessional meeting for non-governmental stakeholders from 2-4 December in New York. Following the blanket shut-out of all non-ECOSOC accredited institutions to the first OEWG session in September, this is an important opportunity for civil society organisations, academics, and relevant industry to contribute their views and expertise in an interactive format with member states. The agenda will cover the same six substantive issue areas as the formal process; a report of the meeting will be delivered to the chairperson of the OEWG, Ambassador Jurg Lauber of Switzerland, when it meets for its second session in February 2020.

Click here to subscribe to our Cyber Peace and Security Monitor which provides monitoring of the OEWG process and other related meetings. In 2020, RCW will be initiating new research on the gender dimensions of international cyber security—which will be the focus of a side event during the December session—as well as continuing to challenge the militarisation of cyber space. 

Anti-nuclear activists continue to make a strong case for urgent nuclear abolishment as more companies, banks, cities, and countries follow

Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which WILPF is a steering group member, continue to mobilise the public and build momentum for the abolition of nuclear weapons. 
We are at a crucial point in time, with the TPNW now being exactly two-thirds of the way to its entry into force (50 ratifications are needed for this to occur), with the recent ratification of Dominica. Earlier in September, five states had ratified and nine states had signed the Treaty during this year’s high-level signing ceremony for the TPNW. 

Meanwhile, more cities have signed up to the ICAN Cities Appeal. Portland, Oregon and Honolulu in the United States are the newest additions to the list. It’s been exactly a year since ICAN launched the Cities Appeal in 2018, and ICAN celebrated the immense progress achieved in that time!

ICAN and its partner organisations continue to spread the word and raise awareness through research and report launches. It published the report Schools of mass destruction: American universities in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex in November. The report documents the nearly 50 US universities which are complicit in the maintenance and production of US nuclear weapons through partnerships with the nuclear weapons laboratories, the Department of Energy, and Department of Defense. If you’re based in the United States, and want to start a campaign around your local university, check out this guide, and sign up online

Graphic by PAXPAX, one of ICAN’s steering group members, also released in October a new report Beyond the bomb: Global exclusion of nuclear weapons producers. It profiles 77 banks, pension funds, insurers, and other financial institutions that have a policy to not invest in nuclear weapons. The number of financial institutions with policies listed in Don’t Bank on the Bomb reports has grown from 35 in 2014 to 77 in this report. Of those 77 listed this year, 36 have a policy that is all-encompassing and excludes all producers from all investments. These are listed in PAX’s famous “Hall of Fame”. According to PAX, “the report shows how a new standard has been firmly established in the financial industry. Excluding companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons is the new normal.”

At the margins of UNGA First Committee another partner organisation of ICAN, the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) launched the 2019 report of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor. The watchdog measures progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons, by using the 2017 TPNW as a yardstick. The report also evaluates the extent to which the policies and practices of all states comply with the prohibitions in the TPNW, regardless of whether they have joined the Treaty yet.

ICAN staff recently met with His Holiness Pope Francis before his trip to the Japanese cities  of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that suffered from US atomic bombings. The Pope thanked ICAN for its fundamental support for the nuclear ban treaty, and is an important ally in our fight for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. See the related news story in our section below.

RCW has been actively promoting the Treaty locally. Ray Acheson, RCW’s director, spoke to the Coalition for Peace Action in New Jersey and  students at Princeton University. The organisation, Brooklyn for Peace, presented Acheson with its PathMaker to Peace Award in November. Her remarks at the reception highlighted the TPNW and the work of ICAN to achieve nuclear disarmament.

The “dictates of public conscience” calling for a ban on killer robots continues to rise  

In stark contrast to the lack of progress in addressing the threat of autonomous weapon systems or killer robots within the CCW, as reported earlier in this edition, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots continues to gain momentum in its determination to ban machines that would target and kill humans without any human control.

The Campaign organised multiple activities at the UNGA First Committee, including a well-attended side event public stunts around the city of New York. Another success was the recent premier of an American TV show episode titled “Killer Robots" from the CBS drama “Madam Secretary” to which almost five million viewers tuned in! 

In November, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his call to ban killer robots in his speech at this year’s Paris Peace Forum. He observed that “machines that have the power and discretion to kill without human intervention are politically unacceptable and morally despicable.” A new poll also confirms that the tide of the public conscience in ten European countries is leaning towards a ban on killer robots. Almost three in every four people responding to the poll want their governments to work for an international treaty prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) or killer robots. 

Fellow campaign member PAX released a new report in November. Slippery Slope: The arms industry and increasingly autonomous weapons shows that many arms producers, including well-known ones like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are developing weapons systems that are on slippery slope towards autonomy. PAX also recently released its annual update on European positions on lethal autonomous weapons. The report concludes that the majority of European states see human control as a central element of the debate and want to work towards concrete policy outcomes.

Upcoming events

Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction
13-22 November 2019, New York

Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, 24th Session
25-29 November, The Hague, Netherlands

Fourth Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention
25-29 November 2019, Oslo, Norway

Intersessional Meeting of the OEWG on Developments in the Field of ICTs in the context of International Security 
2-4 December 2019, New York, USA

Biological Weapons Convention Meeting of States Parties
3-6 December 2019, Geneva, Switzerland

Informal consultations of the GGE on advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security
5-6 December, New York, USA

First session of the GGE on advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security
9-13 December 2019, New York, USA

Featured news 

Conflict in Northern Syria continues to cause grave humanitarian impacts and exacerbate human rights violations 

Since the US’ administration’s announcement of an abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 US troops from northern Syria in early October, human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch have expressed grave concern at repeated human rights abuses, humanitarian impacts, and massive displacement
Turkey launched an offensive across its border with Syrian rebels following the US announcement, seeking to push out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters that it considers to be a terrorist group and a threat to its security. The US had supported the YPG as a main ally in the fight against the Islamic State. After a backlash from its Congress, the US president has since said that some troops will continue to operate there. After seizing control of a 120 km swathe of territory, Turkey reached an agreement with the US to keep the Kurdish militia out of that area. Turkey also reached an agreement with Russia under which the YPG was to withdraw to a depth of 30km along the entirety of the northeastern Syrian border with Turkey. Under the two bilateral agreements, Turkey announced that it would stop its offensive in return for the withdrawal of the YPG fighters but military clashes continue to be reported.

IAEA report reveals Iran is accelerating uranium enrichment 

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found that Iran is rapidly accelerating enriching uranium, which is in breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, and its re-imposition of sanctions last year, Iran has begun to overstep the agreement’s limits on its nuclear activities. Iran announced it has begun refining uranium at Fordow, a site built inside a mountain apparently to protect it from any aerial bombardment, and one that Tehran concealed from UN inspectors until 2009. The IAEA further found uranium particles at a site in Iran that had not been declared by the Iranian authorities.

Ahead of Japan trip, Pope Francis calls nuclear weapons “immoral”

Pope Francis is the second Pope to visit Japan, where he will visit the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities that were destroyed through the atomic bombings in 1946. In a video message to the country of Japan, he described the use of nuclear weapons as “immoral,” and hoped that “the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history.” Pope Francis will be in Japan from 23-26 November.

Germany, France, and the UK urge North Korea to abandon missile tests and all weapons of mass destruction programmes

The three European countries issued a joint statement condemning the dozen sets of ballistic missile launches by North Korea since May 2019. They urged the country to take “concrete steps” in new talks with the United States “with a view to abandoning all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes…”.

China announces that it will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty

During both the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, and in its First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, China announced that it has commenced the domestic legislative process to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  China noted that this is “a clear demonstration of China's staunch support for multilateralism and strong determination to participate in global arms trade governance and build a community of a shared future for mankind.” The announcement comes on the heels of a decision from the United States to withdraw its signature to the ATT.

New searchable database on explosive weapons available

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has released a new database that allows users to search global reports of explosive violence incidents that have occurred since October 2010. The searchable database covers civilian and combatant casualties, the type of explosive weapon used, the means of deployment, the user of the weapon, and the location of the incident.

US states and cities make cyber security pledge and break with US administration

US states, such as Virginia, Colorado and Washington, and US cities are breaking with the federal government and are signing onto the international pledge “Paris Call” aimed at making cyber space safer. It commits members to combatting major cyberattacks, digital theft of intellectual property, and foreign election interference. The Call was first launched by French president Macron a year ago, and has since been approved by 74 countries. It is also endorsed by 333 civil society organisations and 608 companies.

French president Macron continues to promote multilateralism at the second annual Paris Peace Forum 

Close to 30 heads of states, civil society organisations, and business leaders met at the second annual Paris Peace Forum to foster a multilateral approach to the world’s most pressing global issues. French president ImmanMacron called on participants to come to together to fight climate change, economic inequalities, terrorism, disinformation and cybercrime in his plea for multilateralism. Those attending included the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the President-Elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as well as several African leaders. Heads of states from Russia and the United States were notably absent. 

Recommended reading 

Robert Dodge, “Hope and necessity this International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” Common Dreams, 27 September 2019

Renata Dwan, “Women in arms control: Time for a gender turn?,” Arms Control Association, October 2019

Owen B. Toon et al., “Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe,” ScienceAdvances, Vol.5, no. 10, 2 October 2019

Juan Siliezar, “A living witness to nuclear dystopia,” The Harvard Gazette, 9 October 2019

Erin Hunt and Isabelle Jones, “#WPSAdvice: Put Canada back in Humanitarian Disarmament,” Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada, 10 October 2019

Elizabeth McGuinness and Saman Rejali, “Beyond binaries: An intersectional approach to humanitarian action,” Humanitarian Law & Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross, 8 October 2019

Nicola Habersetzer, “Russian activist fights use of facial recognition technology,” Human Rights Watch, 18 October 2019

Sean Howard, “The Chimney and the cloud,” Cape Breton Spectator, October 9 2019

“NIBC first bank worldwide to adopt policy against killer robots,” PAX, 23 October 2019

Various authors, “Gender-responsive small arms control: A practical guide,” Small Arms Survey, 25 October 2019

Keji Hirano, “Autobiography depicts hibakusha’s long struggle,” KYODO NEWS, 7 November 2019

Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, radiation threatens tradition of handing down stories by song,” Los Angeles Times, 10 November 2019

Oksana Grytsenko, “Brave women who clear war-torn Donbas of landmines,” Kyiv Post, 14 November 2019

Jeff Abramson, “Trump administration’s dangerous plan to make it easier to export assault weapons,” CNN, 18 November 2019

Bonnie Docherty, “Incendiary weapons draw widespread condemnation: Russia, US block opening up discussions on restrictions,” Human Rights Watch, 18 November 2019

Duncan E Omondi Gumba and Guyo Chepe Turi, “Kenya: Cross-border arms trafficking inflames Northern Kenya’s conflict,” allAfrica, 18 November 2019

Dan Sabbagh, “Killer drones: how many are there and who do they target?,” The Guardian, 18 November 2019

Paul Meyer, “A new process for an old problem – governing state behaviour in cyberspace,” OpenCanada.org, 18 November 2019