January E-News

The recent scenes from the United States’ Capitol shook the world. They are the climax of four years of a ruthless and reckless, unpredictable, and divisive US administration.

The president, who incited this violent attack, can destroy the world as we know it by the push of a button. He could unleash nuclear weapons within minutes if he felt like it.

But this horrific reality is not about any one president. The leaders of all nine nuclear-armed states, who continue to justify the continued possession of nuclear weapons, have these weapons of mass destruction because they are prepared to use them.

The only way we can ensure that nuclear weapons will never be used again is by eliminating these weapons once and for all.

The good news is, we’re on the way to nuclear abolition! On 22 January, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will enter into force. It will then be unlawful to possess, develop, deploy, test, use, or threaten to use nuclear weapons. 

Learn more in our E-News how the antinuclear community is preparing for this historic moment, and what else we’ll be up to in the next weeks and months to achieve a world free of weapons.

In this edition

Imminent entry into force of nuclear ban treaty: Antinuclear community is getting ready! 

In just a few days, on 22 January, the antinuclear community will celebrate a major milestone—the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Nuclear weapons will be, as of 22 January, unlawful to possess, develop, deploy, test, use, or threaten to use. 

While the Treaty’s provisions are legally binding on its states parties, its normative force is growing every day, establishing customary international law that will over time impact the policies and practices of all governments.

WILPF will launch a campaign around the entry into force, celebrating and educating about the Treaty, amplifying the great work of fellow activists and organisations, and sharing ways each one of us can advance our continued struggle for a nuclear-free world. Activities will include a live Q&A with RCW’s director Ray Acheson over at WILPF’s Instagram, and many other actions. So stay tuned and be sure to follow WILPF and RCW on Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter!

Ray will also speak at various events around 22 January, reflecting on what’s been achieved and where we have to go next. Be sure to tune in to a radio show in Kansas City on 19 January, and to register for webinars on the topic on 21 January, hosted by WILPF Australia, and 22 January, hosted by Humanity Rising.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which WILPF is a steering group member, has also lots of activities planned for the big day, including a live stream show “Studio 21.22”. The event will track the global entry into force of the historic treaty banning nuclear weapons throughout the world’s different time zones, mixing performances, interviews, in-depth analysis, and reporting from artists, politicians, academics, and activists around the world.

ICAN is also tracking all of the amazing activities (almost 90 and counting!) all over the world on its events page where you can get inspired and add yours!

Ray, along with other activists, has already undertaken some direct actions for the TPNW in New York City, including a polar plunge on New Year’s Day urging the City Council to align itself with the TPNW.

It’s important to remember that this major milestone has come about because of the many steps and actions, big and small, taken by activists around the globe. However, the TPNW’s entry into force does not mean the end of our struggle to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It’s essential we keep mobilising ever increasing support for the Treaty and for nuclear abolition.

It’s in this spirit that we’re celebrating every new signature and ratification to the Treaty, with Benin having joined as the latest ratifying state, and Zimbabwe as the latest signatory.

We’re also delighted about the news that the Brighton and Hove City Council has become the latest UK city to pass an ICAN-based motion for the TPNW, taken forward by the local branch of WILPF!

Upcoming international disarmament meetings

As usual, Reaching Critical Will is going to be covering many disarmament meetings throughout the year. However, many meetings are only tentatively scheduled due to ongoing COVID-19 developments, and meeting modalities of conferences are yet to be confirmed. Make sure to check our up-to-date notice about cancellations or postponing of conferences. At this point, it looks like we'll be participating in meetings on nuclear weapons, explosive weapons, and the arms trade, amongst others. Here is a quick look at what’s up in the next few months.

Stopping the use of explosive weapons in populated areas: Towards a political declaration

The process for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons (EWIPA), initiated late 2019 by the government of Ireland, stalled in 2020 due to COVID-19. RCW was able to participate in the second in-person consultation in Geneva in February and published its recommendations for a political declaration in January, as well as its response to the draft elements in February 2020. The third in-person consultation for a political declaration, originally scheduled for late March, with the planned adoption of the declaration in May 2020 in Dublin, had to be postponed.

Fortunately, Ireland recently informed that it will circulate a revised version of the draft political declaration in the second half of January, and announced that it will hold an open and informal exchange of views on the revised draft declaration, most likely to take place in a fully online format. Ireland hopes that it can adopt the declaration in mid-2021 in a fully in-person or hybrid format, subject to developments.

RCW will review and provide input to the revised draft once available, and will continue to collect all available statements and documents on this process on our website. Once adopted, WILPF will support the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which it’s a steering group member, to monitor adherence to the political declaration.

International arms trade: New round of meetings to take place on the Arms Trade Treaty

The Seventh Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (CSP7) is scheduled to take place from 30 August–3 September 2021 in Geneva. Ahead of CSP7, there will be two working group sessions and preparatory meetings. The first meetings will be held from 16–19 February and the second from 25–28 April, meeting modalities to be confirmed. Ambassador Lansana Gberie of Sierra Leone, president of CSP7, has announced that this CSP will focus on the implementation of past ATT decisions, especially those adopted at CSP6. 

As in past years, RCW will be participating in and reporting back from those meetings. We hope that the president will take into account some of the concerns and suggestions WILPF made last year, and ensure transparency and accessibility for civil society, no matter which format the meetings may take. 

Stay tuned for our first ATT Monitor of the year in February (subscribe here), and check our website for available documents of the working group and preparatory meetings.

Cyber security: UN working group to conclude discussions

The third, and final, substantive session of the Open-ended working group (OEWG) on Developments in the field of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the Context of International Security was scheduled to take place in New York from 6-10 July 2020. It has been rescheduled for 8-12 March 2021, due to COVID-19. States are expected to adopt a final report by consensus at this session. A zero draft of that final report will likely be released in late January. 

RCW will analyse and submit a written response to the zero draft. If the third session is open to civil society, RCW will participate and monitor the meetings. Subscribe here to our Cyber Peace & Security Monitor. Civil society participation in and access to OEWG meetings has been a fraught issue, prompting creative solutions like the December 2020 “Let’s Talk Cyber” dialogue series, an initiative that WILPF helped to make happen. 

Later in the year, a second OEWG will commence work. This OEWG will be in session through 2025. Established via a Russian-sponsored resolution at the UNGA First Committee in 2020, it’s not yet clear what its agenda will cover, or the periodicity of meetings. If possible, RCW will follow and provide coverage of the new OEWG. It’s also possible that the vision for a proposed UN programme of action on state behaviour in cyberspace will crystallise in 2021. Next month, RCW will publish a briefing paper presenting lessons learned from the small arms programme for action for a possible cyber instrument.

BMS7 on the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (UNPOA)

The Seventh Biennial Meeting of States (BMS7) to consider the implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA) is currently scheduled to take place at the United Nations in New York City from 26-30 July 2021, subject to COVID-19 developments. In the meantime, for a comprehensive background on the UNPoA and why civil society organisations working on gun violence should attend, head to IANSA’s newsletter on the topic. 

BMS7 will build on discussions and outcomes from the 2018 Third Review Conference on the UNPoA. Catch up on key issues from 2018 in RCW’s Small Arms Monitors

IANSA will serve as the official coordinator of civil society participation in BMS7 this year, and you are encouraged to contact Rose Welsch at rose.welsch[at]iansa.org if you have any questions related to the event.

Nuclear weapons: Tenth Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

The Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), originally scheduled for 27 April–22 May 2020, is currently set to take place 2–27 August 2021 in New York, subject to public health developments. Reaching Critical Will will be the civil society coordinator for this meeting. We’ll keep you informed about any updates and we’ll alert through this email list how civil society organisations can register their participation and side events for the conference. Please check our website for detailed information on the process. We will also maintain a calendar of side events and facilitate civil society interventions. 

In the meantime, catch up on outcomes from the Third Preparatory Committee in 2019 in our NPT News in Review (subscribe here), and keep an eye out in the next months for further information and resources to be published ahead of the Conference, including our 2021 NPT Briefing Book and our annual report on nuclear weapon modernisation, Assuring destruction forever: 2021 edition

As well, after the Treaty on the Prohibition for Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has entered into force on 22 January 2021, states parties and civil society will be preparing for the TPNW’s first Meeting of States Parties. The dates and modalities will be determined at a later date, so stay tuned!

Killer robots: UN meetings for 2021 yet to be confirmed

After the CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties was cancelled in November 2020, dates have not yet been set for the next round of Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) discussions on autonomous weapon systems.

In September last year, RCW participated in the only UN meeting on killer robots in 2020 but the second round of the GGE on LAWS, scheduled for early November, and the annual Meeting of High Contracting Parties (HCP) had to be postponed until further notice due to COVID-19.

To catch up on this process, and learn what’s at stake, read our analysis of the last meeting in our CCW Report.

Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the Month

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), WILPF released its policy brief “Bullets are cheaper than sugar”: The need for new approaches to the Women, Peace and Security agenda in the MENA region. The policy brief adopts a feminist lens in reviewing the existent UNSC framework in the MENA region, analyses the adequacy of existing measures, and focuses on bridging its gaps and limitations. Notably, the report criticises that the Security Council, through its WPS resolutions, does not address militarisation as such, and the report continues to illustrate in-depth how militarisation poses significant obstacles to the meaningful implementation of the WPS agenda.

Upcoming events

Virtual workshop series: Implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons
18 January–8 February 2021, online

Kansas City Community Radio: Entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
19 January 2021, online

Celebrate a nuclear weapons free future with WILPF Australia
22 January 2021, online

WILPF Instagram Live: Entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
22 January 2021

Humanity Rising Global Solutions Summit: Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
22 January 2021, online

ICAN Live Studio
22 January 2021, online

World says no to war in Yemen: International day of action
25 January, online and global

Ending the global security threats of nuclear power: Lessons from the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
27 January 2021, online

Feminist Leadership in Disarmament
17 February 2021, online

Arms Trade Treaty Working Group & CSP7 Preparatory Meetings
16–19 February 2021, Geneva

Featured news 

US nuclear weapons agency fell victim to cyber attacks

The United States’ Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the US nuclear weapons stockpile, have evidence that hackers accessed their networks as part of an extensive espionage operation that has affected at least half a dozen federal agencies. They found suspicious activity in networks belonging to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico, amongst others. The attack is the clearest sign yet that the hackers were able to access the networks belonging to a core part of the US nuclear weapons complex and has raised significant questions about the vulnerability of US government agencies to foreign intrusion. 

Kim Jong-un pledges to expand North Korea's nuclear arsenal

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said the US is his country's "biggest enemy" and that he does not expect Washington to change its policy toward Pyongyang, whoever is president. Addressing a rare congress of his ruling Workers' Party, he also pledged to expand North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal and military potential. He said that plans for a nuclear submarine were almost complete. His comments come as US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office. 

US, South Korean, and international civil society organisations call for the suspension of US-ROK combined military exercises

A coalition of activist groups is calling on the Biden administration to suspend the annual US-South Korea (ROK) combined military exercises as a crucial step toward re-starting genuine diplomacy with North Korea. It will also remove a formidable obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the ongoing 70-year-old Korean War and allow all parties to focus on other intractable global issues facing our nations today, such as creating a nuclear weapons-free world and resolving the current COVID-19 pandemic. Organisations are invited to endorse this call online.

First Meeting of State Parties: South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (SPNFZ) / Treaty of Rarotonga 

The first Meeting of States Parties to the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga was held online on 15 December, in response “to the call by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, at their 50th Meeting held in Tuvalu in 2019 for the operationalisation of the provisions of the Treaty, as necessary.” A Ministerial Statement, an outcome of the conference, concludes with the decision to operationalise the Treaty, and calls for a convening in 2021 to consider practical means of operationalising it.

Major Japan life insurers shun investing in nuclear weapon-linked firms

Four major Japanese life insurers do not invest in or extend loans to producers of nuclear weapons or companies related to them, as part of their efforts toward socially responsible investing. The four life insurers which managed a combined 151 trillion yen (US $1.45 trillion) in assets in fiscal year 2019 are Nippon Life Insurance Co., Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co., Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. and Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co. The revelation comes as various lenders in Japan, Europe, and the US have refrained from investing in companies involved in the nuclear weapons industry. 

Global arms industry: sales by the top 25 companies up 8.5 per cent, with big players active in Global South

Sales of arms and military services by the sector’s largest 25 companies totalled US $361 billion in 2019, 8.5 per cent more than in 2018. After the US, China accounted for the second largest share of 2019 arms sales by the top 25 arms companies, at 16 per cent. The six Western European companies, listed in the report, together accounted for 18 per cent. The two Russian companies in the ranking accounted for 3.9 per cent. Nineteen of the top 25 arms companies increased their arms sales in 2019 compared with 2018. The largest absolute increase in arms revenue was registered by Lockheed Martin at $5.1 billion, equivalent to 11 per cent in real terms. The largest companies have a geographically diverse international presence. Of the 49 countries hosting foreign entities of the top 15 arms companies, 17 are in low- and middle-income countries. 

Petition calls for US military’s emissions to be included to meet international pledges for environmental protection

A new petition calls on the US Congress to include military pollution in climate agreements. In the 1997 Kyoto treaty, the United States negotiated for military carbon emissions to be exempted from climate negotiations, a loophole the petition seeks to address. 

Scottish National Party (SNP) calls on UK Government to support a global ban on killer robots

The SNP spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Alyn Smith called on the UK government to support a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) or killer robots. This is the first time a UK party has attempted to introduce legislation calling for a ban on LAWS.

Armed conflict in Tigray region of Ethiopia displaces thousands amidst use of explosive weapons

Since early November, over 40,000 people in west Tigray towns have been forced to flee across the border into neighbouring Sudan. The conflict has seen shelling, firing of rockets and airstrikes (including one which hit a school) by both sides, disruption of electricity and clean water supplies, and food shortages. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that escalating fighting had already "triggered immense suffering and risks spiralling into a humanitarian crisis". UNICEF chief called for “all parties to the conflict [to] refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and [to] protect essential civilian infrastructures such as schools, healthcare facilities and water and sanitation installations”. 

Aid organisations call for safe and unhindered access to fight impact of hunger and conflict in 2021

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched the 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview, a projection of the humanitarian needs of people impacted by conflict, acute hunger, and the devastating impact of COVID-19. The report estimates 35 billion US dollars are needed to reach 160 million people with life-saving support in 2021. With the United Nations estimating some 235 million people across the globe will be in need of life-saving support in 2021, seven NGOs working on the frontline of conflicts across the globe said it is vital that aid organisations have unhindered access to those most in need and humanitarian appeals are fully funded.

Iran’s top nuclear scientist assassinated outside of Tehran 

Iran's most senior nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near the capital Tehran, the country's defence ministry confirmed in late November 2020. Iran believes Israel and an exiled opposition group used a remote-control weapon to shoot Fakhrizadeh. Israel has not publicly commented on the allegations of its involvement.

Recommended reading

Cesar Jamarillo, “Latin America and the quest for nuclear abolition: from the Treaty of Tltatelolco to the ban treaty,” Toda Peace Institute, 20 November 2020

Folade Mutota, “The threat of gun violence: A constant companion for women,” International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), 27 November 2020

Keyan Salarkia et al., “Stop the war on children: Killed and maimed: A generation of violations against children in conflict,” Save the Children, 2020

Mervat Rishmawi, “Bullets are cheaper than sugar: The need for new approaches to the Women, Peace and Security agenda in the MENA region,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), December 2020

Video: “Midnight: Fighting for our survival,” 350.org, December 2020

Dr Lucie Béraud-Sudreau et al., “Mapping the international presence of the world’s largest arms companies,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, December 2020

Deadly trade: How European and Israeli arms exports are accelerating violence in Mexico,” Global Exchange et al., December 2020

Ray Acheson, “Abolition,” Women’s International League for PEace and Freedom, December 2020

John Mecklin, “Beatrice Fihn: How to implement the nuclear weapons ban treaty,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 7 December 2020

Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, “Inclusiveness: The future of the new and improved ‘normal’”, Humanitarian Disarmament, 21 December 2020

Wim Zwijnenburg, “Battlefields in 2020 were testing grounds for new drone warfare,” Vice, 23 December 2020

Research handbook on the arms trade, Andrew T.H. Tan (ed.), Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020

Sam Perlo-Freeman, “Judicial review redux in the UK over sales to Saudi Arabia and Coalition, Forum on the Arms Trade,” 6 January 2021

Roy Isbister and Frank Slijper, “Weapons for peace? What to expect in 2021 from the EU’s new ‘peace facility,’” Forum on the Arms Trade, 11 January 2021

Nuclear weapons ban monitor: Tracking progress towards a world without nuclear weapons,” Grethe Lauglo Østern (ed.), January 2021