September 2023 E-News
The past months were a whirlwind for the disarmament community, with meetings on cyber security, nuclear weapons, the arms trade, outer space, and cluster munitions. In some of these forums, no progress was achieved. For instance, the Open-Ended Working Group on Outer Space failed to achieve consensus this year, while Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty states parties reached a new low by fighting over which documents could be listed in the meeting’s procedural report. These failures are striking against the current backdrop of multiple armed conflicts and rising military spending. At this year’s First Committee, coming up next month, it is imperative that the disarmament community finds new ways to make progress towards disarmament and demilitarisation. Check out RCW’s 2023 First Committee Briefing Book to read about a number of critical disarmament topics and civil society’s suggestions on how governments can achieve progress on them.
Beyond UN meetings, it is also imperative that activists continue to demand demilitarisation to confront the converging crises of our world. This last weekend in New York City, climate justice took centre stage as thousands of people marched in the streets calling for an end to fossil fuel extraction and ecological devastation, including through militarism. All governments need to renounce fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy and strategies for degrowth, decolonisation, and decarbonisation to protect people and the planet. (Image credit: Ray Acheson)
In this edition:
- Current and upcoming disarmament meetings
- Recently concluded disarmament meetings
- International Day against Nuclear Tests
- Stop the Arms Fair takes on war profiteers
- Stop Cop City and the struggle against militarism
- Japan discharges radioactive wastewater from Fukushima
- Resistance to AUKUS partnership keeps growing
- CARICOM issues historic declaration in conference about autonomous weapons
- Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the month
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended resources
UN General Assembly high-level debate, 78th session
The 78th UN General Assembly high-level debate will take place from 19–26 September 2023. As in previous years, Reaching Critical Will will track references to disarmament and arms control for our country-based index.
13th Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (Article XIV Conference)
The 13th Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (Article XIV Conference) will take place at the United Nations in New York on Friday, 22 September 2023. RCW will deliver a joint NGO statement to the Conference.
UN General Assembly First Committee 2023
The 78th session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security is scheduled to meet from 2 October–3 November 2023 in New York. The provisional schedule is set out in the draft programme of work and timetable. Want to learn more about the topics that will be discussed at the meeting? Check out RCW’s 2023 First Committee Briefing Book, which highlights a number of critical disarmament topics and suggests how governments can achieve progress on them.
Fourth Session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction (MEWMDFZ)
The fourth session of the Conference on the Establishment of a MEWMDFZ will be held from 13 to 17 November 2023 at UN Headquarters in New York. To apply for accreditation, all NGOs (including those with ECOSOC Consultative Status) must do the following no later than 22 September 2023:
- Complete the accreditation request form at https://bit.ly/wmdfz23.
- Submit to diane.barnes[at]un.org a separate request letter, on organization letterhead, with the full names and titles of the representatives who will attend.
If you are a WILPF member looking to attend, please write to laura.varella[at]wilpf.org by 21 Septemeber 2023.
Second Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW 2MSP)
The TPNW 2MSP will take place from 27 November to 1 December 2023 at UN Headquarters in New York. To apply for accreditation, all NGOs (including those with ECOSOC Consultative Status) must do the following no later than 28 October 2023:
- Complete the accreditation request form at https://bit.ly/TPNW23.
- Submit to tpnw[at]un.org a separate request letter, on organisation letterhead, with the full names and titles of the representatives who will attend.
If you are a WILPF member looking to attend, please write to laura.varella[at]wilpf.org by 15 October 2023.
For additional details, please see the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which is the civil society coordinator for 2MSP. ICAN has information about accreditation and registration for the conference, booking side events, and more. ICAN will also be organising a campaigners meeting ahead of 2MSP, and has a calendar of other 2MSP-related events.
Ninth Conference of States Parties (CSP9) to the Arms Trade Treaty
The Ninth Conference of States Parties (CSP9) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) took place from 21–25 August 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. Check out RCW’s website for conference documents. Statements, side events, and other information can be found at the ATT website.
Fourth session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEGW) on Reducing Space Threats
11th Meeting of States Parties of the Convention on Cluster Munitions
The Eleventh Meeting of States Parties of the Convention on Cluster Munitions took place from 11–14 September 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.
On 29 August, the UN commemorated the International Day against Nuclear Tests, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the devastating consequences of nuclear weapon test explosions. This day serves as a reminder of the urgent need for nuclear disarmament and the pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held a high-level plenary meeting to enhance public awareness and education regarding the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapon tests. Check out RCW’s report to learn about what states said during the meeting.
To mark the date, WILPF published a blog written by Ray Acheson, RCW’s director, emphasising that nuclear tests and all activities associated with nuclear weapons cause grave harm to people and the planet. The blog highlights that the harms caused by nuclear weapon tests are not confined to the past; they persist today. It underscores the importance of collective action to end nuclear testing, dismantle nuclear weapons, and work towards a more just and peaceful world. (Image credit: Public domain)
Also as part of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, WLPF and several other organisations signed an open letter about the French tests in Algeria. The letter highlights the catastrophic effects of the 17 tests conducted in Algeria by France between 1960 to 1966 that continue to impact the population and the environment to this day. Among many recommendations, the organisations called on France to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and on Algeria to ratify it.
The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair, one of the world's largest gatherings of arms manufacturers and buyers, took place in London from 12–15 September. This biennial event draws over 1,600 exhibitors, including major arms companies, marketing everything from small arms to combat aircraft and warships. This year’s fair was attended by record numbers of military and security delegations from around the world.
Local groups and activists resisted the arms fair by organising events, actions, and protests, taking place both at the fair's gates and around London. Among the several activities being organised, Art the Arms Fair presents "We Ain't dED Yet," an art exhibition aimed at exposing and opposing the arms fair through creative expression. The exhibition ran from 11–17 September at Gallery 46. All proceeds support Demilitarise Education's campaign to sever university ties with the global arms trade. (Picture credit: @CAATuk)
In September 2021, Atlanta City Council approved a $90 million, 85 acre police training facility known as Cop City, despite widespread community opposition. As a disarmament programme of an antiwar organisation, it is imperative that we oppose militarism in all its aspects, which is why we support those organising to Stop Cop City. As activists have highlighted, in addition to concerns about police militarisation, Cop City will also lead to the destruction of wetlands and forests, and exacerbate racial tensions and injustices.
Stop Cop City organisers have been engaged in petitions, protests, and public hearings. However, the movement has faced severe repression, including arrests and criminal charges. Most recently, 61 people involved in the movement to Stop Cop City were indicted on racketeering charges in a significant escalation of efforts to suppress the grassroots movement. These charges followed earlier arrests and accusations of domestic terrorism against activists. The legal actions have raised concerns about the erosion of democratic rights and the targeting of protest movements. In an article about the recent indictments, Joshua P. Hill writes on the absurdity of the charges, which contain literal condemnations of “the notion of social solidarity,” which, “relies heavily on the idea of human altruism.” Check out here how you can take action to Stop Cop City and see our director Ray Acheson’s latest article in CounterPunch for more information.
RCW has reported on the debate regarding the discharge of radioactive wastewater of Fukushima in previous newsletters. Now, Japan has begun discharging nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima plant into the Pacific Ocean, despite concerns and opposition from various actors, including civil society, academia, and governments. Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka of Fiji criticised Japan for proceeding with the discharge before independent scientific experts could complete their investigation. Activists in Aotearoa New Zealand protested against their government’s silence on this issue and for not opposing Japan's actions. They highlighted the environmental and potential health risks associated with the discharge and expressed concerns about the Pacific being used as a dumping ground for nuclear waste. Protesters also emphasised the need to consider this issue within the context of nuclear colonialism and imperialism, targeting Indigenous peoples and their lands and waters to sustain the nuclear production process.
While Japan justifies the discharge, saying the wastewater is “safe,”, concerns have been raised about the narrow standards used in assessing potential harms and the influence of cost and legal obligations on the decision. In an article about the topic, Marco de Jong emphasises the ongoing legacies of nuclear harm in the Pacific, dating back to nuclear testing in the region. He calls for collective action and unity among Pacific nations to protect the ocean and address the transboundary harm caused by nuclear waste dumping. (Image credit: @DimityHawkins)
Critics have also expressed concern about the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in assessing the safety of nuclear reactors and waste disposal. In a recent piece, campaigner Noel Wauchope questions the IAEA's role in promoting nuclear power while regulating the industry. The article calls for a reevaluation of the control of information about the nuclear industry's health and environmental effects, advocating for an agency not committed to promoting the industry.
The Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) partnership continues to face strong opposition in Australia. Some sectors of the Australian Labor Party have expressed support for AUKUS but face strong opposition both within the party and from the public, which highlight concerns about nuclear proliferation, environmental impacts, and more. Three more Labor factions – Prahran Branch, Deagon Branch, Brighton Branch – have announced opposition to AUKUS following several others that announced it during the party’s national conference in Brisbane last month.
Critics have also pointed out that the AUKUS governments are failing to lead on climate action despite their global commitments, which raises questions about their priorities in the face of the climate crisis.
Despite this strong opposition, a Tasmanian port has received approval to host nuclear-powered vessels, following verification by the national safety agency. The agency's quarterly report confirmed that work at the Hobart port has been completed to ensure it can accommodate such vessels and respond to emergencies.
On 5–6 September, the CARICOM Conference: The Human Impact of Autonomous Weapons took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, where government officials from across the Caribbean and members of international organisations, technical experts, academia, and civil society organisations discussed issues relating to autonomous weapons systems (AWS). The CARICOM Declaration on Autonomous Weapons Systems, issued on the last day of the Conference, reflects the commitment of participating states to collaborate in creating an international legally binding agreement on AWS. (Picture credit: Stop Killer Robots)
The declaration highlights several key concerns related to autonomous weapons, including their potential for proliferation, risks of falling into the hands of non-state actors, challenges to domestic security, and ethical implications. It calls on states to address these issues with an intersectional approach, considering factors like race, ethnicity, religion, and gender.
Stop Killer Robots praised CARICOM member states for recognising the need for safeguards against autonomous weapons and for supporting a legally binding instrument to regulate them. The declaration emphasises the importance of meaningful human control over the use of force and encourages engagement in discussions and negotiations within the UN General Assembly and other multilateral forums.
Ahead of the First Committee session, Stop Killer Robots calls upon political leaders to raise the issue within their statements, and to promote, co-sponsor and vote to adopt a resolution on autonomous weapons systems, which will broaden the international debate on this issue.
Our Recommendation of the month is the article “A feminist approach for addressing excessive military spending,” written by Madeleine Rees and Ray Acheson for the UNODA Occasional Papers. The publication explores the connections between gender and military spending, offering a feminist approach to peace and security that defends the concept of human security through the dismantlement of structures of oppression and injustice through negotiation and cooperation.
The Gender and Disarmament Database, created and maintained by Reaching Critical Will, features a wide range of resources such as reports, articles, books and book chapters, policy documents, podcasts, legislation, and UN documents. The database allows the exploration of relevant resources based on their references to distinctive gender aspects in disarmament, such as gender-based violence, gender norms, or gender diversity, and different related topics or types of weapon systems. It currently contains more than 800 resources, and suggestions of new additions can be sent to disarm[at]WILPF[dot]com.
11th Meeting of States Parties of the Convention on Cluster Munitions
11–14 September 2023 | Geneva, Switzerland
UN General Assembly high-level debate, 78th session
19–26 September 2023 | New York, USA
13th Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (Article XIV Conference)
22 September 2023 | New York, USA
International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
26 September 2023 | Global
78th Session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
2 October–3 November 2023 | New York, USA
Events and webinars
Regulating AI: algorithmic systems, human rights, and national security loopholes
22 September 2023 | online
Military and conflict GHG emissions: From understanding to mitigation
26 September 2023 | Oxford (UK) and online
Bankers & Bombs: How Venture Capital and Private Equity are Feeding the Military Industrial Complex
27 September 2023 | online
Korea Peace Rally & March
30 September 2023 | New York, USA
Humanitarian Disarmament Forum
20–22 October 2023 | New York, USA
Evidence suggests that US nuclear weapons are returning to the UK after more than 15 years
The Federation of American Scientists reported that the recent budget documents from the US Air Force strongly suggest that the country is in the midst of re-establishing its nuclear weapons mission on UK soil. According to the budget, $50 million was secured to build a 144-bed dormitory at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, UK. The justification given for this dormitory, which is set to be constructed from June 2024 to February 2026, is to accommodate an increase in enlisted personnel due to a "potential surety mission." According to Matt Korda, “surety” is a term commonly used within the Department of Defense and Department of Energy to refer to the capability to keep nuclear weapons “safe, secure, and under positive control.” This could mean that US nuclear weapons might be returning to British soil for the first time in more than 15 years. Commenting on this news, the Russian foreign ministry said that any deployment of US nuclear weapons to the UK would be viewed as an escalation, and warned that Russia would also take countermeasures to “safeguard security interests of our country and its allies.”
Meanwhile, a recent poll by YouGov revealed the majority of the UK public opposes US nuclear weapons being stationed in the country. Sign up to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament‘s mailing list to keep up to date with their campaign to stop this. (Image credit: @nuclearban)
United States announces it will send depleted uranium anti-tank rounds to Ukraine
The United States (US) has announced its intention to supply Ukraine with depleted uranium anti-tank rounds, following the precedent set by the United Kingdom (UK), which sent these controversial munitions earlier this year. The 120mm rounds will be used to equip the 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks that the US plans to deliver to Ukraine in the near future.
Research shows that although depleted uranium (DU) has low radioactivity, it can lead to cancer and birth defects in certain human exposure scenarios. British courts have ruled in favour of at least two Gulf War veterans who experienced health issues due to contact with DU. A report also revealed that UK military safety studies conducted from 1986 to 1988 regarded an accident involving DU rounds catching fire as the "most serious hazard." DU-containing weapons have previously been deployed by both UK and US forces in conflicts such as those in Iraq, Syria, and the former Yugoslavia. An investigation conducted by Declassified in Kosovo revealed that civilians residing near areas where DU was used reported elevated rates of rare cancers.
Human Rights Council addresses the impacts of militarisation on Indigenous Peoples
The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has published a study on the impact of militarisation on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The study outlines the use of Indigenous lands for military bases and training camps, use of Indigenous lands by armed groups, use of military forces to control Indigenous Peoples’ land for geopolitical interests, and the use of armed forces and private security companies for the protection of development projects and the exploitation of natural resources. The report examines the consequences of these activities for the rights of Indigenous Peoples related to life, integrity, liberty, and security; to land, territories, and natural resources; to economic, social, and cultural rights; rights of Indigenous women; and more. It also outlines protection mechanisms and effective remedies.
US and Israel plans to conduct drills simulating attack on Iranian nuclear facilities
Israel and the United States are planning a series of joint military exercises, including simulations of a potential attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, as reported by Jerusalem's Channel 12. As stated by ICAN, “Any attack on nuclear facilities contravenes UN resolutions and is reckless. It would threaten widespread radioactive contamination affecting human health and the environment.”
Kim Jong Un visits Russia to discuss military matters
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit where they discussed military issues, the Ukraine conflict, and potential Russian assistance to DPRK's satellite program. There are concerns among US and Republic of Korea officials that the DPRK might provide weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has been heavily involved in the war in Ukraine for over 18 months. Both Russia and DPRK have denied such intentions.
US continues arms deals with Saudi Arabia even after reports of killings of Ethiopian migrants
The US is facing criticism for pursuing a security agreement with Saudi Arabia despite the country's troubling history of human rights abuses and recent reports of Saudi security forces shooting and killing Ethiopian migrants on the Saudi-Yemen border. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented these incidents, suggesting they may constitute crimes against humanity. Despite knowledge of these atrocities, the US has continued to support Saudi leadership, allowing Saudi Arabia to engage in contracts with US companies totaling $319.5 million for various military equipment and services. This raises concerns about the use of US-made weapons for human rights abuses by US-trained Saudi troops, a pattern observed in the past.
Swedish weapon contractor buys company to exploit AI swarm systems
As reported by Army Technology, Sweden’s largest weapon manufacturer Saab has acquired Bluebear, a UK manufacturer of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled autonomous swarm systems. Saab claims the move was made to “secure its presence in disruptive, global markets including Australia, Germany, the UK and US.” Bluebear is also involved in providing technology for the AUKUS partnership. The company participated in “the first AUKUS AI and autonomy trial, organised by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in June this year,” which deployed AI-equipped assets within a cooperative framework designed to identify and monitor military targets in a realistic setting in real-time.
US announces plan to deploy thousands of autonomous weapons over next two years
In a recent speech, the US Deputy Secretary of Defense revealed that the US military is planning to deploy thousands of autonomous weapon systems within the next two years. This initiative, known as the Replicator program, intends to collaborate with military and technology companies to manufacture cost-effective systems for all branches of the military. Peter Layton, Visiting Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, writes that while military systems with varying levels of independent operation have become more prevalent in the past decade, the magnitude and breadth of this announcement highlight a significant shift in the nature of warfare.
IBM resumes facial recognition work after pledge to abandon technology
As reported by The Verge, IBM, despite its 2020 commitment to cease offering "general purpose" facial recognition technology due to concerns about human rights violations, has signed a £54.7 million contract with the UK government to develop a national biometrics platform that includes a facial recognition function for immigration and law enforcement purposes. The contract specifies that the platform will enable "strategic facial matching for law enforcement." IBM has defended its involvement, stating that the project does not support mass surveillance or racial profiling and only matches photos against a fingerprint and photo database, not video ingest for crowd surveillance. Human rights advocates argue that the project contradicts IBM's earlier commitments, emphasising the inherent human rights concerns associated with one-to-many facial recognition systems.
Cluster Munition Monitor 2023 is out now
The Cluster Munition Coalition launched the “Cluster Munition Monitor 2023”. The Coalition found that in 2022, 95 percent of cluster munition casualties recorded by the Monitor were civilians. Cluster munition attacks killed or wounded at least 987 people in 2022, of whom 890 were in Ukraine. “The shocking increase in new civilian casualties from cluster munitions serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact these heinous weapons have on civilians, including children.” said Tamar Gabelnick, Director of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “All countries that have not banned these weapons must do so immediately. There can be no excuse for their continued use.”
New York government bans disposal of radiological waste in Hudson river
The New York Governor has signed a bill prohibiting the disposal of radiological waste from the Indian Point Energy Center nuclear plant into the Hudson River during its decommissioning process. The measure, originally passed by the state Legislature in June, aims to protect the river and its economic significance.
Ray Acheson, “The Racketeering of State Violence,” CounterPunch, 17 September 2023
Anna Stavrianakis, “DSEI: Desperately seeking exports internationally,” Declassified UK, 12 September 2023
Karen Brounéus, Erika Forsberg, Kristine Höglund, and Kate Lonergan, “The burden of war widows: gendered consequences of war and peace-building in Sri Lanka,” Third World Quarterly, 9 September 2023
Wim Zwijnenburg, “Reporter’s guide to investigating war crimes: Environmental and property damage,” Global Investigative Journalism Network, 8 September 2023
“What happens when machines can decide who to kill?,” RCRC Magazine Podcast, 1 September 2023
Martin Bush, “Focus on renewables, not nuclear, to fuel Canada’s electric needs,” Policy Options Politique, 1 September 2023
“Due diligence responsibilities of businesses involved in small arms and light weapons,” International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and IPIS, September 2023
Lucy Sherriff, “Endless fallout: the Pacific idyll still facing nuclear blight 77 years on,” The Guardian, 25 August 2023
Dan Mahanty and Stefan Bakumenko, “Climate Change and the protection of civilians in conflict,” Center for Civilians in Conflict, 23 August 2023
Christine Ro, “On the warpath: AI’s role in the defence industry,” BBC, 23 August 2023
Matilda Byrne, “Killing by algorithm,” Declassified Australia, 21 August 2023
Marco de Jong speaking to Teuila Fuatai, “Japan’s nuclear waste has no place in our Pacific,” E-Tangata, 27 August 2023
Bedi Racule, “See you soon, Lagoon,” Asia-Pacific Leadership Network, 29 August 2023
Ray Acheson, “Ending Nuclear Tests, Abolishing Nuclear Weapons,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 29 August 2023
“Protecting society from AI harms: Amnesty international’s Matt Mahmoudi and Damini Satija (Part One),” Me, Myself, and AI, 29 August 2023
Patrick Kaiku, Nuclear justice for the Marshall Islands in the age of geopolitical rivalry in the Pacific, Asia-Pacific Leadership Network, August 2023
Nivedita Raju and Laura Bruun, "Integrating gender perspectives into international humanitarian law," SIPRI, August 2023
Hina Uddin, “'Human-centered disarmament' in the New Agenda for Peace," Humanitarian Disarmament, 17 August 2023