June 2019 E-News

This month’s E-News looks at developments for nuclear disarmament, efforts to prevent the proliferation of guns in communities, how tech workers and activists are battling killer robots, and what is being done to prevent the militarisation of cyber space. Learn more about the marches, campaigns, monitoring, reporting, and awareness raising activities that the Reaching Critical Will team and our partners are engaged with in our June edition. 

In this edition

    Nuclear disarmament sees win in June

In line with the majority of states’ support for humanitarian disarmamentParis ICAN Cities Appeal at the recently concluded Third Preparatory Committee of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), citizens, cities, counties, and federal governments continue to stress the urgency of nuclear disarmament. In the last few weeks, the capitals of Paris and Oslo, as well as the cities of Saanich and Victoria in Canada joined the ICAN Cities Appeal, following other cities such as Berlin, Geneva, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. Check out if your own city has already signed the Appeal, and learn how to make it happen if your home isn’t on board yet!

In the United States, resolutions passed by the Oregon Senate and the New Jersey Assembly express their staunch support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Over in Scotland, the West Dunbartonshire Council passed a resolution in support of the nuclear ban treaty becoming the fourth UK Council to formally support the TPNW.  The Council has also become the first local authority in Scotland to pass a resolution calling for its pension fund to divest from nuclear weapons!

Pax BankBombThe resolution has come just at the right time: The new report Shorting our security-Financing the companies that make nuclear weapons by PAX and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) exposes yet again that banks, insurance companies, and pension funds invest billions of dollars, US $748 billion to be precise, in nuclear weapon producing companies. Current investment has increased by 42 per cent compared to last year. (This is mostly because Boeing stock prices have increased dramatically. The company is heavily involved in the building of new US nuclear weapons.) However, the good news is that less banks are investing, with almost 30 per cent of turnover in the banks with investments!

If you live in the US, you can now call on your Representative to co-sponsor the Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act of 2019. The bill calls on the US government to sign and ratify the TPNW, eliminate its nuclear weapons and use the resources saved to address climate change and other pressing social needs.

This month, heightened pressure for humanitarian nuclear disarmament comes also from International Queers Against Nukes (IQAN). In honour of Pride Month, our queer activists of ICAN are hitting the streets across the United States all of June, protesting militarisation, corporatisation of Pride, and mobilising support for the nuclear ban treaty!
(Photo credits: ICAN & PAX)

    Banning killer robots: Activists and the public are making waves while the UN process remains slow

The first informal consultations for the second meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) took place on 15 May in Geneva. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a member, delivered a statement to the meeting that saw a high turnout of states’ participation. The goal of the meeting was to receive feedback on the Chair’s non-paper called draft conclusions. If agreed, this document might form the basis for the 2019 GGE report and recommended action for states to take on killer robots at the CCW next year. It is of concern to the Campaign that the Chair’s draft conclusions do not include any reference to “possible options”, that was part of the 2018 GGE report, in addressing the threat raised by killer robots.

There are two additional informal consultations scheduled before the GGE meeting from 20-21 August in Geneva. The second informal consultation will take place on 28 June, and the third on 19 August in Geneva.

One day prior to the GGE informal consultation at the UN, good news came from the Netherlands. The Dutch Parliament adopted a resolution with wide support across the political spectrum calling on their government to take a leading role in the development of binding international regulation of new weapons technology, including killer robots.

Parliamentary BriefWith the ambition to achieve similar support in Canada, Reaching Critical Will’s Allison Pytlak participated in a parliamentary brief in Ottawa together with Peter Asaro from the International Committee for Robotic Arms Control (ICRAC), and Professor Yoshua Bengio, who is the this year’s co-winner of the Turing prize. The briefing sparked strong support from participating MPs.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres flagged dangers raised by artificial intelligence (AI) including killer robots in his opening message to the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) AI for Good Summit in Geneva. Guterres warned of “a world with diminished privacy, less human agency and accountability, as well as killer robots or “autonomous machines with the power and discretion to select targets and take lives without human involvement.” He reiterated his call for a ban treaty on killer robots.

Tech workers and activists with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots have also been busy at conferences in various parts of the world on AI and robotics, speaking out about killer robots and encouraging the wider community of actors to pledge not to build these weapons. If you want to learn more about killer robots and AI in general, you can visit the exhibition AI: More than Human featuring one of our Campaign’s videos at the Barbican in London, a world renowned arts and learning centre. The exhibition will be in London until 26 August and will then travel to the Netherlands, China, and other countries.
(Photo credit: Mines Action Canada)

    Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

On 23 May, the UN Security Council held its open debate on the protection of civilians, marking the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the first UN Security Council resolution on Protection of Civilians 1265 (1999). Different items were discussed during the open debate. For a thorough review, check out our colleague Zarin Hamid’s (gender) analysis of discussions.

One of the topics that WILPF has focused on for years was the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). WILPF has been exposing the devastating impacts on human beings and the physical and social infrastructure of cities, towns, and communities, and we have consistently highlighted the gendered harms and other human rights violations that can be caused by the use of EWIPA, as well as connections between the use of EWIPA and the international arms trade. During the debate, states denounced the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and called on the international community to adopt measures of a protection framework on the indiscriminate use of these weapons. Most of the states addressing explosive weapons in populated areas “cited concerns that these weapons lead to large numbers of victims within urban spaces and create large scale destruction of homes and access to humanitarian assistance as well as environmental damage.”

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which WILPF is a member, released an updated briefing paper on the issue prior to the debate and co-hosted a side event on 24 May together with the Permanent Missions of Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Ireland, and New Zealand. We hope to advance the objective of a political instrument to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and to provide a framework for victim assistance at the Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare, where states and civil society will meet from 1-2 October in Vienna, Austria.

    WILPF’s work on gender and ATT implementation continues

WILPF’s longstanding work to improve understanding about the ControlArms Rigagendered impacts of the international arms trade and spur preventive action continue. Reaching Critical Will (RCW) is utilising the opportunity of the thematic focus on gender and gender-based violence (GBV) within the context of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to foster understanding and improve Treaty implementation. In May, RCW’s Programme Manager contributed expertise to a three-day training for export licensing officials from ten central and eastern European countries in Riga, Latvia. The training, organised by Control Arms and with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Harvard Law School, used case studies and interactive learning opportunities to illustrate how to assess for the risk of a proposed arms transfer being used to commit or facilitate GBV, as well as discuss gender norms and how the ATT relates to other obligations under international law.

RCW and a diverse delegation of WILPF members and section staff will participate in the ATT’s Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) in August. Through side events, advocacy, monitoring, and the release of new research findings, we will continue to promote a progressive, feminist critique of the arms trade while also holding governments to account for their commitments under the ATT and build capacity on gender and GBV prevention. View our coverage of the 2019 informal and working group meetings and for documents and other CSP5 information.
(Photo credit: Control Arms)

    WILPF co-hosts feminist workshop for peace and disarmament

In May, RCW helped organise a workshop hosted by WILPF and the London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security in Geneva to look at issues related to gender and disarmament. We invited activists, academics, and staff from intergovernmental organisations to discuss and explore issues related to weapons and war from feminist perspectives. The meeting was in part a follow on to the “Women and Weapons” roundtable hosted by LSE in December 2018, in which RCW Director Ray Acheson participated. These initiatives are aimed at encouraging cross-sectoral, intersectional feminist thinking and work on disarmament and weapons-related issues.

    Exploring gender-sensitive mine action

States parties to the Ottawa Convention included a thematic panel on gender in mine action during the intersessional meetings held in Geneva in May. The Convention will undergo a review conference in Oslo in December 2019, prompting a review of existing progress in all areas and the articulation of a new Action Plan in Oslo. RCW’s Manager Allison Pytlak joined the thematic panel where she emphasised that gender-sensitive mine action is about more than training and employing female deminers and that a gender perspective can warrant more effective mine risk education and victim assistance, and gave examples of how gender is being addressed in other disarmament fora. Other panelists from Mines Advisory Group, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, and the Mine Action Review provided more concrete recommendations for consideration.

    UNIDIR’s Cyber Stability Conference focuses on multi-stakeholder engagement

The annual Cyber Stability Conference organised by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), held this year in New York on 6 June, took focus on the meaning of multi-stakeholder engagement, in the run up to the start of the UN’s two new process on cyber security. The two processes—an open-ended working group (OEWG) and a group of governmental experts (GGE)—will get underway later in 2019. Both offer the potential for a broader group of stakeholders to contribute to their deliberations on norms of behaviour for states in cyberspace; the OEWG will have an multi-stakeholder intersessional meeting in early December and be open to observation, and the GGE has scheduled regional consultations. The two bodies replace earlier GGEs convened by the UN in this area since 2004, following the inability of member states to agree on a single new entity at the 2018 First Committee to take forward dialogue on this topic, amid heavy politicisation.

RCW attended the conference and live Tweeted from many of the panels, which also covered how the two processes can work in complementary ways and other regional and global spaces where cyber norms are being discussed. RCW, as the NGO contact point for the OEWG, will soon launch a new webpage to host documents and information related to these meetings, as well as more substantive content challenging the militarisation of cyber space and advocating for cyber peace.

    Global Week of Action on Gun Violence reminds of its devastating impacts

Citizens around the world have raised awareness on the devastating impacts of gun violence for this year’s Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence (2-9 June) and the Wear Orange Campaign (7-9 June). The latter began in the US after 15-year old high school student Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death while talking on a sidewalk with her friends after finishing her final exams. Hadiya’s friends and family members wore orange–a bright and bold color–to raise awareness of gun violence, honor and remember those who have lost their lives,  and to call for action to stop more lives from being lost. Countless people around the world took part in the campaign, including on Twitter under the hashtag #WearOrange #EndGunViolence, and #IANSA.

Many organisations, activists and others also organised events for the Global Week of Action on Gun Violence. UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu stressed in her contribution that the risk of intimate partner violence increases when guns are involved, and called for strengthening of women’s participation in discussions around gun control. Amongst many other civil society actors, the Network of Action against Light Weapons (CANSA) in Cameroon, of which WILPF Cameroon is a founding member, hosted a press conference, calling on governments to take action in the fight against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW).

    Upcoming events

Conference on Disarmament, Part 2
13 May—28 June 2019, Geneva

Biological Weapons Convention Meetings of Experts
29 July-9 August, Geneva

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

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

    Featured news

US administration bypasses Congress to sell arms to Saudi Arabia

The US administration bypassed US Congress via an emergency authorisation based on "years of malign Iranian behaviour". However, it "failed to identify what actually constitutes the emergency today." The authorisation allows American defence company Raytheon to ship 120,000 bombs, support for F-15 warplanes, mortars, anti-tank missiles, and rifles to Saudi Arabia. The emergncy authorisation also permits Raytheon to build bomb parts in Saudi Arabia. Access to Raytheon's technology may allow Saudis to build technology similar to American precision-guided bombs, which the Saudi regime had previously used against Yemeni civilians.

Italian unions refuse to load Saudi Arabian ship in protest against war in Yemen

Italian union workers refused to load two generators to a Saudi Arabian board in protest against the war in Yemen. They argued that although registered for civilian use, the generators could be instead directed to the Yemen war effort. The vessel had loaded arms in Antwerp, Belgium but was prevented from picking up another batch of weapons in Le Havre, France after protests from humanitarian groups.

New report by Facing Finance exposes European banks’ investments in arms companies

The report Dirty Profits 7: Out of control: Irresponsible Weapon Transfers and Future Weapon Systems, published by the NGO Facing Finance, finds that ten European banks have provided around €24.2 billion in finance, and hold some €10 billion in investments of eleven arms companies exporting to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries involved in the war in Yemen, and to other crisis-affected countries in the MENA region. The report finds that Lloyds and UniCredit are the largest financiers of arms companies, and that Crédit Agricole and Deutsche Bank are the largest investors.

Release of 2018 Explosive Violence Monitor: Over nine in ten casualties were civilians when explosive weapons were used in populated areas

The Explosive Violence Monitor 2018 by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded 32,110 deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons around the world. Of those harmed, 70 per cent were reported to be civilians. Of the civilian casualties, 91 per cent were recorded in populated areas (20,384 individuals). Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) killed and injured more civilians than any other weapon type. While civilian casualties decreased by 30 per cent globally, some countries saw an increase of harm, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, India, and Libya.

UN human rights mechanisms are forced to cancel sessions in 2019 due to financial reasons

The Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced that six of the ten UN treaty bodies are forced to cancel their sessions this year due to financial reasons. This is said to be because of an “unprecedented consequence of some UN member states delaying payments due to the Organisation.” By 10 May, only 44 UN member states had paid all their assessments due, with the United States owing the largest amount. More than 200 civil society organisations, including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, published an open letter, urging states to pay their assessed contributions without further delay.

Drone Wars’ new report: large military drones have crashed twice per month over the past decade

Drone Wars published a new report reviewing large military drone crashes over the past decade. The report Accidents Will Happen details over 250 crashes of large Predator-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) across the world operated by various countries, but primarily the United States. The organisations Drone Crash Dataset show that large military drones crashed on average twice per month over the past decade. Amidst plans behind closed doors to open UK airspace to drones, the report warns against the rise of UAVs and calls for public debate about the scope of uses of military UAVs in the United Kingdom.

Poll: Americans want to stay in nuclear arms control agreements

A new poll from the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland asked a bipartisan group of 2,264 people for their opinions on a variety of nuclear weapons issues. The vast majority expressed support for the extension of the New START Treaty that limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons that the US and Russia can deploy, and the preservation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) that limits the number of intermediate-range missiles Russia and the US can deploy.

Ohio school closed after enriched uranium discovered inside

An Ohio school has been forced to close after enriched uranium was discovered inside. The source of the enriched uranium remains unclear. A Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, located 2 miles from the school, might be responsible. The facility previously produced enriched uranium, including weapons-grade uranium for the US Atomic Energy program and for use in US nuclear weapons. Uranium enrichment at the site ended in 2001.

UN Secretary-General raises concerns about leaks of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres raised concerns that a concrete dome, built in the late 1970s Century in the Marshall Islands, is leaking radioactive material into the Pacific. The crater that contains waste from atomic-bomb tests was only envisaged as temporary fix, and the bottom of the crater was never lined. There are concerns that it could break apart if hit by a tropical cyclone. Guterres stressed that Pacific islanders still require support to deal with the fallout of nuclear testing, including in relation to health and the poisoning of waters. The United States and France carried out nuclear explosions during the 1950s, forcibly evacuating islanders from ancestral lands, with thousands that were exposed to radioactive fallout.

France acknowledges for the first time that Polynesian islands were forced into dangerous nuclear tests

France has officially acknowledged for the first time that French Polynesians were forced into accepting almost 200 nuclear tests conducted over a 30-year period in a bill issued by the French parliament reforming the collectivity of 118 islands in the South Pacific. The bill also makes it easier for the local population to request compensation for cancer and other illnesses linked to radioactivity.

New teaching pack on Gender, Marginalisation and Nuclear Weapons soon available for free

A new teaching pack by CND Peace Education, soon available, will be offering teachers five teacher lessons, suitable for years 7-13, themed around gender, identity and nuclear issues. The pack will combine case studies and visual materials. You can pre-order the new teaching pack here.

Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. to merge with industrial technology company United Technologies creating military-industrial giant

Raytheon Corp., a giant US defense contractor best known for manufacturing the Patriot missile defense system, has agreed to merge with industrial technology giant United Technologies. Subject to regulatory approvals, the deal is expected to close in early 2020. The combined company will have enough financial resources to invest $8 billion each year in research and development.

Study finds that US Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than many countries

According to a first study to compile such comprehensive data on US defense operations' greenhouse gas emissions, published by Brown University, the United States creates more planet-warming gas emissions through its defense operations alone than industrialised countries such as Portugal or Sweden. The Pentagon that oversees the US military released about 50m metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017. If it were a country, its emissions wouldmake it the world's 55th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the study, using and moving troops and weapons accounted for about 70 per cent of its energy consumption, mostly due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel.

    Recommended reading

Ariel Conn, “The United Nations and future of warfare,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 9 May 2019

Gregory Jaczko, “I oversaw the US nuclear power industry. Now I think it should be banned”, The Washington Post, 17 May 2019

Graham Parsons, “Masculinity and humanitarianism,” Humanitarian Law & Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross, 20 May 2019

Tristan Greene, “Research indicates the only defense against killer AI is not developing it,” The Next Web, 21 May 2019

Rebecca Johnson, “Will non-proliferation and nuclear restraint be weakened in 2020?”, European Leadership Network, 24 May 2019

Mary Olson, “Disproportionate impact of ionising radiation and radiation regulation”, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Volume 44, Issue 2: Perspectives on gender in scientific practice, 26 May 2019

Ray Acheson, “Humanitarian Disarmament Sees Win at NPT: Nuclear Arms Control Remains in Peril”, Humanitarian Disarmament, 28 May 2019

Dr Sheri Labenski, “The world is not organised for peace”- Exploring the 1924 ‘New International Order’”, Centre for Women, Peace and Security, London School of Economic and Political Science, 28 May 2019

Henrik Molte, “Mission Creep: How the NSA’s game changing targeting system built for Iraq and Afghanistan ended up on the Mexican border,” The Intercept, 29 May 2019

James Reinl, “Cheap drones are changing the calculus of war in Yemen”, Public Radio International, 3 June 2019

International Committee of the Red Cross, “Artificial intelligence and machine learning in armed conflict: A human-centred approach”, 6 June 2019

International Committee of the Red Cross, “Digital risks for populations in armed conflict: Five key gaps the humanitarian sector should address”, 12 June 2019