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January E-News

As we are moving into the new decade, alarming events are taking place all over the world. Australia is being ravaged by wildfires; tensions in the Middle East are rising even more after the US’ killing of Iran’s most powerful military general; and the nightmare that has haunted the Syrian population for almost a decade continues with yet another wave of bombing and displacement from the province of Idlib. These events are a grim foreboding of what we can expect this new decade if we don’t drastically change course. The climate crisis, the continued imminent threat of a nuclear attack, and continued proxy wars at the expense of civilian populations can only be stopped with immediate and bold collective action. We have to break the destructive alliance of capitalism, militarism, and patriarchy. Reaching Critical Will is determined to contribute to this movement and we hope that all of you will join us!

In this edition

Upcoming international disarmament meetings

As usual, Reaching Critical Will is going to be covering many disarmament meetings throughout the year. We'll be taking on nuclear weapons, explosive weapons, the arms trade, and more. Here is a quick look at what’s up in the next few months.

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

The Sixth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (CSP6) will take place from 17-21 August 2020 in Geneva. Ahead of CSP6, there will be two working groups and preparatory meetings. The first meetings will be held from 4–7 February and the second from 14–17 April in Geneva. Ambassador Carlos Foradori of Argentina, president of CSP6, has announced that this year’s priority theme will be the prevention and eradication of diversion of conventional weapons. 

As in past years, RCW will be participating in and reporting back from those meetings. 

Last year, CSP5 was a significant turning point with its priority theme of gender and gender-based violence (GBV). Throughout the year, we were active in improving understandings about the gendered impacts of the international arms trade and helping facilitate and promote preventive action. At CSP5, ATT states parties adopted a package of decisions that seeks to strengthen implementation of the ATT’s article 7(4) relating to the GBV risk assessment criterion, enhance gender diversity, and improve understandings of the gendered impact of armed violence. This year, we will seek to ensure that these commitments are followed by long-term and sustained actions. We will continue to assist states in clarifying their obligations under the Treaty, and hope to ensure that the perspectives of those affected by the proliferation of arms are recognised and included.

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

Nuclear weapons: 2020 Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will meet 27 April–22 May 2020 in New York. The Conference will take place against escalating geopolitical tensions, making current prospects for a successful conclusion of the Review Conference look dim. But we all have a responsibility to hold states parties to account for the past commitments to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and to demand the nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-supportive allies undertake concrete steps now to de-escalate tensions and achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Reaching Critical Will is the civil society coordinator for this meeting. We have recently alerted 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. 

If you are a WILPF member planning to attend, please let us know by writing to [email protected] We do not have resources available for sponsorship but can facilitate your accreditation. 

Catch up on outcomes from the Third Review Conference 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 2020 NPT Briefing Book and our annual report on nuclear weapon modernisation, Assuring destruction forever: 2020 edition. 

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

In late 2019, Ireland initiated a process to develop a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The first open consultation took place 18 November 2019 in Geneva, on which we reported. The next consultation will take place 10 February in Geneva. A third consultation is tentatively scheduled for the second half of March and it is expected that governments will adopt a political declaration in the first half of 2020. 

In support of the declaration, WILPF recently published a paper offering recommendations to help ensure this effort prevents human suffering and protects civilians and civilian infrastructure. 

The RCW team will be participating in the upcoming consultations and will continue to collect all available statements and documents on this process on our website.

Cyber security: UN working group resumes discussion

The UN’s Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security will have its second substantive session in New York from 10-14 February 2020. Discussion will follow the same six thematic topics as the first substantive session in September 2019 but will likely be energised by a working paper presented by the OEWG Chair, Ambassador Jurg Lauber of Switzerland, and three background papers prepared in response to priority questions and issues identified by states in the September session. It is expected that inputs received in the second session will form the basis of a “pre-draft report” that will be further elaborated through two informal sessions scheduled for March and May, and then finalised during the third and final OEWG session in July. While the first OEWG session was more constructive in tone than many expected, divergent views remain between states on key points such as the applicability of international law to cyber space and how to address threats from non-state actors. There is also not great clarity on how the OEWG will differentiate its outputs from a smaller and less transparent Group of Governmental Experts also meeting, on the same subject.

What is significant for the February session will be the presentation of a chair’s report from the OEWG’s informal intersessional meeting in early December 2019 for non-governmental stakeholders. The three-day meeting brought together over 100 experts from civil society, academia, and the private sector to share views on the six thematic areas. The high turnout and robust discussion was important considering that many civil society actors were denied access to the September OEWG session but the extent to which inputs from December will feed into the process going forward is not clear, or how much of a role non-governmental stakeholders will play in future OEWG meetings. 

Reaching Critical Will will provide coverage of the meeting through its Cyber Peace & Security Monitor. Information on participation will be available here, and documents are also on our site.  


Coming soon: New RCW database on gender and disarmament!

At the end of this month, RCW will be launching a new searchable database that will feature a range of resources that explore the nexus between gender and disarmament. The database will include reports, articles, books, statements, policy documents, interviews, podcasts/radio features, news articles, legislation, and UN documents. Keep an eye out for the launch on our website. We are looking forward to hearing your feedback!

Upcoming events

ATT Working Group & CSP6 Preparatory Meetings
4–7 February 2020, Geneva

Second open consultation for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
10 February 2020, Geneva

Second substantive session of the OEWG on Developments in the Field of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) in the context of International Security
10–14 February 2020, New York

ICAN Paris Forum
14–15 February 2020, Paris

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots global meeting
26–28 February 2020, Buenos Aires

Featured news

US’ killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani escalates tension in the Middle East

In an airstrike ordered by the US president, Iran’s most powerful military general was killed on 3 January 2020 in a dramatic escalation of relations between the US and Iran. The de facto leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) was also killed in the drone strike. The White House argues that the attack was a “decisive defensive action” aimed to deter future Iranian attack plans. Iran responded by firing a barrage of missiles at two US bases in Iraq, inflicting no casualties which was seen as attempt to prevent further escalation. Shortly after, Iran mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet which killed 176 passengers. As a response to the US killing, Iran also announced that its nuclear programme will have “no limitations in production, including enrichment capacity.” Britain, France and Germany have triggered the dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a decision already taken in late December 2019. After the US’ withdrawal of the agreement in early 2018, this step could result in the collapse of the agreement entirely.

New survey reveals: Majority of millenials believe that a nuclear attack is likely to occur in the next decade

A new survey asked more than 16,000 young people aged 20 to 35 in 16 countries and territories on their views on war. The survey is commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It indicates that 47 per cent believe it to be more likely than not that there will be a third world war in their lifetime, and 54 per cent believe that it is more likely than not that a nuclear attack will occur in the next decade. The majority of respondents, 54 per cent, also believe that nuclear weapons should be banned. The vast majority of respondents from Syria, Colombia, Ukraine, and Switzerland said that the use of nuclear weapons is never acceptable while the majority of respondents from Nigeria and the US did not agree with this statement.

UK Ministry of Defense found to be overspending by billions of pounds on nuclear weapons programme

The United Kingdom’s National Audit Office (NAO) found that Britain’s nuclear weapons programme has led to increasing costs by £1.3bn, and has led to lengthy delays. The infrastructure projects, initially valued at £2.5bn, are being built to 1) enhance or replace existing facilities where four new submarines are being built to carry Trident missiles, 2) to develop nuclear reactors to power the submarines, and 3) to assemble nuclear warheads. 

Catholic Church asserts that the use and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral

On the way back of his recent trip to Japan, Pope Francis announced that the Catholic Church will state in its teachings that the use of and possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. He argued that, “Because of an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity."

New poll finds that the majority of Japanese public wants to join the nuclear ban treaty

According to an opinion poll conducted by Japan’s public TV station NHK, published on 10 December 2019, 66 per cent of those asked replied that Japan should join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) while only 17 per cent answered Japan does not have to join the Treaty.

In 2019, civilians continued to bear the burden of harm from the use of explosive weapons 

The preliminary findings of the 2019 Explosive Violence Monitor, published by the research organisation Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) suggest that 66 per cent of total casualties from the use of explosive weapons have been civilians in 2019, as reported in English language media. For the ninth consecutive year, when explosive weapons were used in populated areas, over 90 per cent of those killed and injured were civilians, amounting to 17,904 recorded casualties. The report further finds that Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya saw the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries in 2019. See for a more detailed update here

German arms exports at record high in 2019

The value of German arms exports amounted to eight billion euros in 2019, reaching a new record high. In 2015, the German government had approved military goods for 7,59 billion euros, and numbers had since been decreasing. The largest approved exports went to Hungary, Egypt, and the United States. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also among the ten largest importers. Both Egypt and the UAE are involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Other top ten importing countries include Algeria, Qatar, and Indonesia. 

Joint civil society communication calls upon the International Criminal Court to investigate legal responsibility of European arms companies and licensing officials

A joint Communication by six non-governmental organisations, submitted on 11 December 2019 to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC), calls upon the OTP to investigate the legal responsibility of corporate and political actors from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. The Communication focuses on the role of eleven European arms producing companies in potentially aiding and abetting alleged war crimes committed by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. 

Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau announces support for a ban on killer robots

In a major breakthrough, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has requested that Canada’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne “advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems,” or killer robots. 

Recommended reading

Linde Bryk and Christian Schliemann, “Arms trade and corporate responsibility: Liability, litigation and legislative reform,” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, November 2019

Lilly Adams, “The human cost of nuclear weapons is not only a “feminine” concern,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 22 November 2019

“International Humanitarian Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts– Recommitting to protection in armed conflict on the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions,” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 22 November 2019

Documentary film “Killer Robots will fight our wars: Can they be trusted?,” Freethink, 12 December 2019

Jonah M. Kessel, “Killer Robots aren’t regulated. Yet.,” The New York Times, 13 December 2019

Documentary film “A.I. is making it easier to kill (you). Here’s how.,” The New York Times, 13 December 2019

Mary Wareham, “Killer Robots are not a fantasy. The world must reject and block these weapons.” USA Today, 30 December 2019

“No to war,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), 8 January 2020

Michael T. Klare, “How rising temperatures increase the likelihood of nuclear war,” The Nation, 13 January 2020

William Arkin, “With a new weapon in Donald Trump’s hands, the Iran crisis risks going nuclear,” Newsweek, 13 January 2019