In a rare instance of good news in 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has reached the 50 ratifications required for its entry into force! The achievement of 50 ratifications signals incredible courage from non-nuclear-armed states to stand up to the most heavily militarised states in order to solidify in international law the illegality and immorality of nuclear weapons. “As with all other social justice issues, laws will not fix everything straight away—and whatever gains are made are assaulted by pushback from those who fear loss of their privilege and power,” wrote RCW’s director Ray Acheson. “But things do change. The nuclear ban must be seen in this context: in the context of resistance to injustice, inequality, and oppression; and in the context of making meaningful change through acts of courage.”
As we advance the TPNW, we must also grapple with challenges to international disarmament efforts and forums. This edition of the E-News looks at recent developments in the UN General Assembly First Committee, discussions on autonomous weapon systems, and more. While 2020 is finally nearing its end, we know that the road forward is going to be rough. Cooperation, dialogue, and nonviolence are key principles that we will continue to promote across all the issues we work on.
In this edition
- Nuclear ban reaches 50!
- First Committee concludes despite COVID-19
- Reaching Critical Will’s coverage of the 75th session of the General Assembly
- Many UN disarmament meetings postponed as COVID-19 restriction measures are reimposed
- UN talks on killer robots resumed in late September for the first time in 2020, but the way forward is uncertain
- New publications provide feminist perspectives on autonomous weapon systems
- WILPF publishes analysis of the UN system during the COVID-19 lockdown
- Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the month
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended reading
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has reached the 50 ratifications required for its entry into force!
Honduras deposited its instrument of ratification on 24 October, United Nations Day, which marks the 75th anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Charter in 1945. The governments of Jamaica and Nauru deposited their instruments of ratification on 23 October, the eve of this anniversary. Their collective efforts mean the TPNW has reached the requisite 50 ratifications to enter into force, which will happen in 90 days, on 22 January 2021.
This is truly a historic moment for nuclear abolition, achieved only by the relentless efforts of generations of activists and diplomats around the world. In January, nuclear weapons will be unlawful to possess, develop, deploy, test, use, threaten to use, or assist in any way shape or form for their states parties. They will be on the same legal footing as biological and chemical weapons, as landmines and cluster bombs, as blinding laser weapons. Just as chemical weapon stockpiling and use is so rightly condemned, so too will the possession of nuclear weapons be stigmatised for all.
The many partner organisations of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), including WILPF, are currently planning activities and actions for next steps after the Treaty’s entry into force. If you want to join the action, check out ICAN’s website. As well, if you feel like you need more clarity about what the Treaty’s entry into force actually means, head over to ICAN’s instagram account for a breakdown of international law and the TPNW.
First Committee concludes despite COVID-19
This year’s UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security just concluded. As so many other things in 2020, it was unusual due to COVID-19. Most delegations, including the RCW team, monitored the conference from home as the number of persons in the UN General Assembly Hall was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. There were fewer meetings held and statements made, and side events all took place online. Despite the different format, RCW still provided the usual monitoring, including publishing regular First Committee Monitors, live-Tweeting from @RCW_, and uploading all available statements as well as resolutions and voting results to our website.
As Ray wrote in the final edition of the Monitor, “While some of what went down this year may seem to be procedurally wonky, or perhaps even irrelevant compared to the challenges being faced every day in our world, it seems worth documenting and analysing because, regrettably, it may not be as irrelevant as we may wish. The goings-on at this year’s First Committee session provide insights into what some of the most violent governments in our world are up to in relation to international law, intergovernmental institutions, and the use and development of weapons. Unfortunately, this has real-world implications for us all.” Be sure to check out the complete final edition of the Monitor, which takes stock of dynamics and outcomes of the 2020 First Committee session.
UN high-level debate
RCW tracked governments’ references to disarmament in the UN high-level general debate that took place from 22–29 September. The themes addressed most frequently included nuclear weapons, the arms trade, cyber security, and explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). Read RCW’s summary of the event, and search the online index to learn what your government had to say about disarmament!
UN high-level event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations
RCW also reported on the United Nations commemoration of its 75th anniversary with a high-level event on 21 September 2020. Its theme was “The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism”. While the event was in many ways a positive retrospective of the institution’s achievements to date, virtually all speakers stressed that this anniversary is taking place at a time of great fragility. Most called for a dramatic shift in global and national priorities in order to survive the next 75 years.
UN high-level meeting for the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
On 2 October, the UN held a high-level event to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Due to COVID-19-related restrictions, most remarks were made virtually through pre-recorded video statements. Almost every delegation condemned the possession of nuclear weapons, seeing them, as Costa Rica eloquently described, as “contrary to the survival instinct of our species.” The vast majority of delegations remarked on the importance of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which is to enter into force 22 January 2021! For an extensive summary of the event, head to RCW’s website.
Due to stricter public health regulations in Geneva, many upcoming UN disarmament meetings had to be postponed on very short notice. This included the second Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems, scheduled to be held on 2–6 November 2020, as well as the CCW’s annual meeting on 11–13 November. Both meetings had to be postponed until further notice.
As well, the Tenth Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), first postponed to January 2021, is now again rescheduled to take place in August 2021 in New York.
If you are struggling to keep on top of the rapidly changing schedule due to COVID-19 you can consult RCW’s up-to-date list of cancelled or postponed UN disarmament meetings.
UN talks on killer robots resumed in late September for the first time in 2020, but the way forward is uncertain
After months of uncertainty and two informal consultations convened by the Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), states convened at the United Nations in Geneva from 21–25 September for another Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems. This marked the first time that the CCW held a physically distanced meeting as well as a virtual one broadcast in full on UN Web TV.
No decisions were taken at the meeting, but several states indicated their support for negotiations of a legally binding instrument or treaty, including many of the 30 countries that have explicitly called for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. WILPF and other representatives from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots participated in the meeting. For a comprehensive summary report of the conference, read the latest edition of the CCW Report.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, due to reimposed COVID-19 restrictions in Geneva, the second CCW meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems and the CCW’s annual meeting had to be postponed until further notice. It is therefore unclear how states will take the work of the GGE forward in these challenging circumstances. But what is clear is that we need to take urgent action to prevent the development and use of killer robots, and the disarmament community needs to get creative and flexible to achieve a ban amidst these unprecedented circumstances.
A new paper series, published by RCW with support from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, provides feminist analyses of particular problems posed by the development and potential use of autonomous weapon systems.
The first paper, Autonomous weapons and patriarchy unpacks the concepts of patriarchy and militarised masculinities and explains how these are relevant for an analysis of autonomous weapon systems.
The second paper, Autonomous weapons and gender-based violence, describes gender-based violence (GBV) and how it relates to the militarised masculinities and mission of patriarchy.
The author of the reports, Ray Acheson, will discuss them in an upcoming Instagram Live event with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots on 2 December at 11:00 EST, and at an online event with the Bristol University Amnesty International Society.
WILPF publishes analysis of the UN system during the COVID-19 lockdown
In late September, WILPF published a report that provides an overview of the impact of the COVID-19-related changes in process and procedure at the United Nations, particularly in terms of transparency and accessibility to civil society.
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the functioning of the UN, as it has on all other aspects of human life. UN Headquarters in New York City and the UN Office at Geneva both locked down for months, cancelling or postponing in-person meetings and trying, to various degrees of success, to move certain forums and functions online.
The report focuses on processes and forums related to disarmament and human rights, and covers briefly the work of the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, and the Commission on the Status of Women. It covers the period of March to mid-September 2020 and provides recommendations for future work.
The webinar ‘Why nuclear weapons matter now more than ever’ hosted by Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy (WTONL) is a beautiful homage to nature, the planet and humankind, and offers a path forward to preserve this planet, by working towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is the most gruesome, oppressive tool of violence which could destroy it all in a heartbeat. The webinar features diverse women mentors who are leading the path towards peace and disarmament, including RCW’s Ray Acheson; Molly Hurley, Nuclear Fellow with the Prospect Hill Foundation; Colleen Moore of Global Zero; and Beata Tsosie-Peña of Tewa Women United.
18th Meeting of States Parties to the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention
16–20 November, Geneva and online
Third round of informal meetings of the UN Open-ended working group on ICTs
17–19 November, New York and online
Fourth round of informal meetings of the UN Open-ended working group on ICTs
1–3 December 2020, Geneva and online
2020 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Meeting of Experts
1–10 December 2020, Geneva
Stockholm Security Conference
17–20 November, online
Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty?
19 November, online
Alternative finance for mine action and development
19 November, online
Moving forward via humanitarian disarmament
19 November, online
Nuclear Free Future Award
25 November, online
The intersection of gender and killer robots
25 November, online
Other events and campaigns
16 Days of activism against gender-based violence
25 November–10 December, global
Historic milestone achieved as the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reaches 50 ratifications needed for entry into force
On 24 October 2020, the TPNW reached the required 50 states parties for its entry into force, when Honduras ratified it just one day after Jamaica and Nauru submitted their ratifications. On 22 January 2021, the Treaty will enter into force. Prior to the TPNW’s adoption, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not banned under international law, despite their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.
Former world leaders urge ratification of nuclear ban treaty
A letter from 56 former prime ministers, presidents, and defence ministers from “nuclear umbrella” states published in late September calls on current leaders to join the TPNW. The former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and two former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) secretaries-general, Javier Solana and Willy Claes, are among the co-signers. This represents the most significant show of high-level support for the treaty in these countries.
US urges countries to withdraw from UN nuclear ban treaty
The United States urged countries that have ratified the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to withdraw their support as the pact neared the 50th ratifications needed to trigger its entry into force. In an unprecedented move in international relations, the letter said that countries who have ratified made a “strategic error and should withdraw … [the] instrument of ratification or accession.”
Antinuclear activists get federal prison terms for nonviolent protest
More than two years ago, the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven peacefully broke into a naval base in Brunswick, Georgia, USA to symbolically disarm the nuclear weapons on the Trident submarines at the base. The activists were charged with felony crimes of conspiracy, destruction of government property, depredation as well as the misdemeanor of trespassing. Three were sentenced to 10-14 months; one has yet to be sentenced. The sentences come as prisons across the United States are inundated with COVID-19.
Iran calls on US president-elect to return to nuclear agreement
Iran’s president called on US President-elect Joe Biden to “compensate for past mistakes” and return the US to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The current US administration unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, which had seen Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Russian administration offers NATO site inspections to avoid missile buildup
Russian president Vladimir Putin proposed that the North Alliance Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia should conduct mutual inspections of each other’s military bases to secure a moratorium on the deployment of new missiles in Europe following last year’s demise of the US-Russian nuclear arms agreement Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Putin’s move comes amid uncertainty surrounding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expires in February. The US and Russia have inched toward agreement to extend the pact, their last remaining arms control agreement, but differences have remained.
Marine fisheries will not offset farm losses after nuclear war
A new Rutgers co-authored study finds that after a nuclear war, wild-catch marine fisheries will not offset the loss of food grown on land, especially if widespread overfishing continues. The study for the first time explored the effects of nuclear war on wild-catch marine fisheries.
Use of artillery salvos, ballistic missiles and cluster munitions cause grave civilian harm in Armenia and Azerbaijan
Amnesty International has examined available evidence that strongly suggests the use of ballistic missiles and notoriously inaccurate rocket artillery salvos by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, that have caused civilian deaths, injuries, and widespread damage in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and Ganja in Azerbaijan. Amnesty International has previously warned against the use of banned cluster bombs, after its experts found that Azerbaijan had likely used the weapons in the region. Azerbaijan has alleged use of cluster munitions by the Armenian side, but these allegations couldn’t be verified as yet. Many other non-governmental organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as UN representatives have condemned the attacks causing civilian deaths and injuries.
Gun sales hit record high ahead of US elections
Americans have purchased almost 17 million guns so far in 2020, more than in any other single full year on record, according to Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a research firm that tracks firearms. Sale spikes during election years are common, but this is unprecedented, with gun sales surpassing 2016’s record of 15.7 million firearms sold.
United States approves major arms sales to the United Arab Emirates
The United States’ (US) announcement of a massive $23 billion arms offer to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the largest arms deal that the current US administration has proposed to the UAE. The particular arms on offer are especially sensitive, and include advanced weaponry such as F-35 fighter jets and armed drones never before sold to an Arab Gulf country. The UAE’s active role in a number of regional conflicts raises the prospect that US imported arms could contribute to ongoing violence. The formal notification to legislators follows a US-brokered agreement in September in which the UAE agreed to normalise relations with Israel.
2020 Humanitarian Disarmament Forum concludes successfully
The virtual three-day event, with this year’s focus of race and intersectionality, was co-organised by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Soka Gakkai International. It brought together civil society organisations working on disarmament, and created a safe space to discuss race and racism within the humanitarian disarmament community.
Global launch of new DisarmApp
The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) has created the DisarmApp, a web-based application that provides an interactive overview of disarmament and disarmament-related treaties and instruments in a digestible way. The app explains key treaty elements and definitions and is compatible on both mobile and desktop.
UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) launches youth website
The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs launched its new youth website, featuring news on upcoming events and other ways that young people can become involved in disarmament work. In addition, the site will provide regular blog updates from the recently announced UN Youth Champions for Disarmament.
“Confronting conflict pollution: Principles for assisting victims of toxic remnants of war,” Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic and the Conflict and Environment Observatory, September 2020
“Targeting life in Idlib: Syrian and Russian strikes on civilian infrastructure,” Human Rights Watch, 15 October 2020
“New weapons, proven precedent: Elements of and models for a treaty on killer robots,” Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic, October 2020
Elizabeth Minor, “Regulating autonomy in weapons systems,” Article 36, October 2020
Katherine Aguirre and Robert Muggah, “Arming the Americas,” The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Latin America, Xóchitl Bada and Liliana Rivera-Sánchez (eds.), October 2020
Wanda Muñoz and Mariana Díaz, “Los riesgos de las armas autónomas: Una perspectiva interseccional latinoamericana,” Sehlac, October 2020
Dimity Hawkins, “Now that nuclear weapons are illegal, the Pacific demands truth on decades of nuclear testing,” The Guardian, 24 October 2020
Roos Boer, Laurie Treffers, and Chris Woods, “Seeing through the rubble: the civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS,” PAX and Airwars, 26 October 2020
Ray Acheson, “Nuclear weapons have always been immoral. Now they’re illegal,” The Nation, 27 October 2020
Webinar: “Science for Peace Symposium on working for the elimination of nuclear weapons: Global efforts,” Science for Peace, 27 October 2020
Nina Bernarding and Kristina Lunz, “Exporting violence and inequality: the link between German arms exports and gender-based violence,” Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy and Greenpeace, October 2020
Senem Kaplan, “UNSCR 1325 at 20 years: Perspectives from feminist peace activits and civil society,” WILPF, October 2020
Bonnie Docherty, “From obligation to action: Advancing victim assistance and environmental remediation at the first meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, 1 November 2020
Tilman Ruff and Dimity Hawkins, “315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific,” The Conversation, 2 November 2020
Podcast: Ray Acheson and Libbe HaLevy, “UN nuclear weapons ban treaty: the inside scoop,” Nuclear Hotseat Podcast, 4 November 2020
Alicia Sanders-Zakre, “Nuclear weapons ban treaty to enter into force: What’s next?,” Arms Control Association, November 2020
Branka Marijan and Cesar Jaramillo, “5 misconceptions about autonomous weapon systems,” Project Ploughshares, November 2020
Bonnie Docherty, “‘They burn through everything’: The human cost of incendiary weapons and the limits of international law,” Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic, November 2020
Podcast: Allison Pytlak, Arindrajit Basu, “Who rules cyberspace? Engaging civil society,” Chatham House, 12 November 2020