May E-News

On 28 April, WILPF turned 105 years old. Founded in the midst of World War I, women from all over the world came together in The Hague, Netherlands, to discuss how this war, and all future wars, could be abolished for good. Our founders developed a root cause analysis of militarism that holds true to this day.

The COVID-19 crisis serves as unfortunate evidence of the fault lines that WILPF has been exposing for over a century. The pervasive culture of militarism, and vast financial and human resources sucked up by the military-industrial complex, have left us unprepared for the current and future challenges to global peace and security. Racism, sexism, and other structural violences have become embedded in our global political economy.

The global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has woken up many to the fundamental ludicrousness of governments being armed to the teeth while lacking ventilators and basic medical protective equipment. The disruption and destruction COVID-19 impacts marginalised communities disproportionately. But the disruptions to the systems of militarism, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy offers an unprecedented opportunity to re-think and re-build our societies. WILPF is rising to the challenge, continuing to share its vision for building a better world in our COVID-19 blog series.

In this edition

Antinuclear activists lay bare the absurdity of continued existence of nuclear weapons amidst global health crisis

In a pre-COVID world, many of us would currently be participating in the 2020 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the UN headquarters in New York. Now everyone is at home instead, but civil society continues to remain active in its calls for the urgency of nuclear disarmament. 

To mark the 25th anniversary of the indefinite extension of the NPT, one of RCW’s joint efforts has been the coordination of a statement, supported by over 80 civil society organisations, highlighting our concerns with the Treaty's implementation and recommendations and opportunities for progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. We were able to bring this statement to the attention of NPT states parties at an online event hosted by Ireland and Costa Rica on 11 May.   

RCW also continues to moderate briefings by governments on nuclear disarmament online. We are grateful for the many government representatives that have participated so far and that have engaged in lively discussions with civil society colleagues. There are still two remaining briefings scheduled. If you want to join the discussions with governments, check out the calendar for an up-to-date schedule and registration details. As usual, these briefings are for civil society organisations accredited to the NPT Review Conference only. 

Starting in June, RCW and the Arms Control Association will initiate a new monthly webinar series looking at critical issues in relation to the NPT. More details on dates, topics, and how to register are forthcoming.

Our 2020 NPT briefing book, published in March, is now also available in French, thanks to our friends from ICAN France! This annual edition provides a guide to understanding the NPT and examines key issues related to the Treaty. 

COVID-19 has laid bare the absurdity of spending on nuclear arsenals when resources are dangerously scarce for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) exposes the immense sums of money that nuclear-armed states spend on their nuclear weapons. Its timely new report, “Enough is enough: 2019 Global nuclear weapons spending,” finds that the nine nuclear-armed states spent roughly US $73 billion on their nuclear arsenals in 2019. It also found that the nine nuclear-armed states spent an estimated US $7.1 billion more on their arsenals in 2019 than they did in 2018. 

Relatedly, and as we do every year, RCW will soon publish an updated report on the status of nuclear weapon modernisation programmes, with updates from global experts and activists. It sheds additional light on the waste of resources on the modernisation of the most devastating weapon of mass destruction. Stay tuned for its release! In the meantime, we have published a blog highlighting the costs and risks of nuclear weapon modernisation in the context of COVID-19 as part of the WILPF blog series.

Against the current backdrop, it is more important than ever to heighten public pressure on financial institutions to withdraw their support from companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons. Great strides have been made but more needs to be done. ICAN published a briefing paper on divestment and nuclear weapons to inspire activists to use it as an effective divestment campaign tool.

A great example of such actions comes from ICAN Germany, which has started a petition to persuade their government against buying new combat aircraft for the use of nuclear weapons. They have collected already over 16,000 signatures! They also took to the streets to protest against the plans of Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to waste 12.5 billion euros on military equipment amidst the dire need for resources to address the COVID-19 crisis. WILPF Germany is actively participating in these efforts to prevent Germany from continuing its nuclear sharing with the United States.

Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

Despite the postponement of the third in-person consultation for a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), the process continues online. Ireland still welcomes inputs on the draft of the political declaration to allow the greatest number of inputs from states and civil society. Based on the written submissions, it will circulate a second draft of the political declaration later in the year. As reported earlier, WILPF and partners have submitted responses to the draft text.

In the meantime, on 27 May, the UN Security Council will convene its annual open debate on the protection of civilians based on resolution 1265 (1999). The original mandate was motivated, among other things, by the Council’s “deep concern” at the erosion of respect for international humanitarian law during armed conflict. This erosion has since continued. Many items will be up for discussion during the open debate. Due to the current circumstances, government statements will be made in writing, but there will be online remarks from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, amongst others.  

Guterres is expected to release his annual report on the Protection of Civilians ahead of the debate. In the past years, he highlighted attacks on civilians and civilian objects using explosive weapons and called on all parties to conflict to avoid the use of EWIPA and expressed his support for the development of a political declaration that would commit states to this. The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), and WILPF as one of its steering group members, are calling on states to acknowledge in their written statements the humanitarian suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. INEW further calls for states to endorse the UN Secretary-General and International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) recommendation that states should “avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas,” and to indicate support for the current process for a political declaration to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. 

WILPF has consistently urged states to end this practice and provide victim assistance and environmental remediation to those already impacted by bombing in towns and cities. We recently published a new fact sheet about explosive weapons to complement our existing publications on the use of EWIPA.

Fragile diplomatic talks on killer robots at risk of stagnating amidst pandemic

As with many other international processes, the already fragile diplomatic talks in the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on fully autonomous weapon systems are at risk of stagnating entirely. The next meeting of the GGE is scheduled for 22–26 June in Geneva but it will be postponed to a yet undetermined time.

This year’s Chair of the GGE, Ambassador Karklins of Latvia, is attempting to keep the momentum up by encouraging states to provide national commentaries as a response to his non-paper. He released the paper earlier in the year and explained the rationale behind it in the online forum on fully autonomous weapons systems convened by Germany in early April. In case you want to catch up on the Berlin forum, you can now also read the Chair’s summary and RCW’s report. In an attempt to keep the issue of killer robots high on the international agenda, Germany already announced a follow-up conference on the topic for 6 November, to take place in Berlin. 

While the GGE process is in limbo, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is constantly becoming bigger, currently clocking in at 160 partner organisations in 66 countries. Growing ever stronger, we’ll be looking for other avenues to make sure we rapidly progress towards the development of an international ban on killer robots. In a recent blog as part of the WILPF COVID-19 series, for example, we raised concerns about the increasing reliance on surveillance technology and the lines between these kinds of tech developments and uses and autonomous weapons.

ATT and UNPoA: Uncertainty continues around upcoming conventional arms control processes

In light of the ongoing pandemic, the president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) confirmed to member states on 15 May that the seventh Biennial Meeting of States (BMS7) of the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA), originally scheduled to take place from 15–19 June, will be postponed to 2021. The UNGA will decide on the exact dates during its 75th session in October. 

As of yet, the Sixth Conference of States Parties (CSP6) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is set to proceed, although the modalities of the Conference are uncertain at this point. RCW participated in the first preparatory meetings in February which took place in-person in Geneva. Following the meeting, the chairs of the working groups and sub-working groups updated their documents and work plans on the way forward, requesting written input by states parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) by 21 May. This year’s president, Ambassador Foradori of Argentina, also published a non-paper on the CSP6 priority theme of transparency and exchange of information and their role in diversion, requesting feedback by states parties and CSOs by 28 May. 

WILPF is submitting input to the documents. In particular, we are critical that the gender and gender-based violence (GBV) decisions adopted at CSP5 are not very well reflected in the work plan for the Working Group on Effective Treaty Implementation (WGETI). Moreover, we are noting that a ‘business as usual’ approach to the arms trade is unacceptable in light of the current pandemic. WILPF also encourages that any online meeting, if applicable, be inclusive, accessible, and secure for all stakeholders. More positively, WILPF welcomes the Working Group on Transparency and Reporting  (WGTR)’s substantial changes to the ATT reporting templates that would improve the quality of the initial and annual reports from ATT states parties.

Both RCW’s director and manager contributed chapters to the recent special issue of the academic journal Global Responsibility to Protect, which focused on the ATT and its implementation. Ray Acheson provided analysis of gender-based violence and the arms trade, while Allison Pytlak looked at the effectiveness of the ATT diplomatic process.

UNODA publishes new resource on military spending, including WILPF contributions

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) has published a new edition of its UNODA Occasional Papers series, entitled Rethinking unconstraind military spending. The publication addresses the issue of military spending from various angles. Amongst others, WILPF’s Ray Acheson and Madeleine Rees discuss feminist perspectives towards excessive military spending. They call for the need of diverse voices in conversations towards disarmament. This collection follows a paper published by UNODA in October 2019 that provides a historical overview of the United Nation’s efforts to reduce military spending, authored by Michael Spies.

WILPF contributes to the UN Secretary-General’s report on disarmament education

Every two years, the UN General Assembly requests the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to prepare a report reviewing the results of the implementation of the recommendations of the 2002 UN study on disarmament and non-proliferation education. The report is a biennial compilation of work by governments, UN offices, intergovernmental organisations, and non-governmental organisations in this field. It is presented to the full membership of the UN General Assembly and circulated to a wide audience of disarmament and non-proliferation educators. 

Reaching Critical Will has coordinated WILPF’s input for this year’s report. Next to RCW’s activities, the report includes disarmament education activities from WILPF Sections and Groups from Sri Lanka, Sweden, USA, Australia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, amongst others. It’s great to see how active WILPF is all over the world, raising awareness about the gendered impacts of weapons and the need to disarm and demilitarise!

RCW Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the month

WILPF and the Association for Progressive Communications have co-authored a new report looking at why and how gender matters in international cyber peace and security. Gender shapes and influences our online behaviour; determines access and power; and is a factor in vulnerability. As a result, malicious cyber operations can differently impact people based on their gender identity or expression. While great strides have been made in recognising the applicability of the human rights framework to threats and abuses against women's digital contexts, including though resolutions and recommendations from authoritative human rights bodies, the gender dimensions of international cyber security remain nearly unexplored. This report helps to fill that gap.

Upcoming events

Free webinar series about divesting from the war machine: Coalition-building
19 May 2020, online

Virtual 2020 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development: Sustaining peace in the time of COVID-19
11-22 May 2020, online

No to NATO, Yes to Peace webinar
19 May 2020, online

Webinar: US arms sales in the time of COVID-19
19 May 2020, online

Webinar: regional strategies to stop the flow and use of firearms in Mesoamerica
28-29 May 2020, online

Featured news

Global military expenditure in 2019 reached $1917 billion, the largest annual increase in a decade 

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published its annual report on global military expenditure. It finds that the total expenditure of $1917 billion represents an increase of 3.6 per cent from 2018 and the largest annual growth in spending since 2010. The five largest spenders in 2019, which accounted for 62 per cent of expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Military spending by the United States grew by 5.3 per cent to a total of $732 billion in 2019 and accounted for 38 per cent of global military spending. The increase in US spending in 2019 alone was equivalent to the entirety of Germany’s military expenditure for that year. 

Global nuclear arms spending hit $73 billion last year, half of it by the US

The world’s nuclear-armed nations spent a record of US $73 billion on their nuclear weapons last year, according to a new report released by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The new spending figures reflect the highest expenditure on nuclear arms since the height of the cold war. The US spent US $35.4 billion, almost as much as the eight other states combined, accelerating the modernisation of the US arsenal in its first three years while cutting expenditure on pandemic prevention.

16 Japanese financial institutions refrain from investing in companies involved in nuclear weapons manufacturing

According to a Kyodo News survey, sixteen Japanese financial institutions have refrained from investing in and extending loans to companies involved in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons and delivery missiles. The survey found that lenders set guidelines for divestment in light of growing international criticism against conducting deals with nuclear-related companies.

German Social Democrats demand that Germany be freed from US nuclear weapons on its soil

Rolf Mützenich, the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), the second biggest party in Germany, spoke out against the continued stationing of US nuclear weapons on German soil, describing them as security risk. The United States (US) stations nuclear weapons as part of an agreement to remain under the “protective nuclear umbrella” the US has held over the country since the 1950s. Germany is in the process of phasing out its aging fleet of Tornado fighter jets, the planes it relies on to fulfill its nuclear sharing obligations with the US. Mützenich’s statement came a few days after German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her support for purchasing US-made F-18 aircrafts to replace the Tornados. 

Scottish nuclear facilities escape pollution checks amidst COVID-19 crisis

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has relaxed environmental rules for specific sectors, notably the military and civil nuclear industry, to help companies cope with COVID-19. This means that the Faslane nuclear base and nuclear power plants have been given the green light to break safety limits on radioactive waste. A “temporary regulatory position statement” posted on its website offered radioactive waste exemptions to the Faslane navel base on the Clyde, as well as three nuclear plants. Various anti-nuclear organisations have expressed deep concern at the relaxed rules and their impact on the environment.

UK government found to transport nuclear weapons in spite of COVID-19

Antinuclear organisations have reported that the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has transported nuclear weapons from the Aldermaston/Burghfield complex in Berkshire to the atomic weapon store facility at Coulport on Loch Long. The MoD routinely moves nuclear warheads (each with the destructive power of eight Hiroshima bombs) to and from Burghfield and Coulport for maintenance and refurbishment. In the road convoy, huge warhead carriers are supported by up to twenty other police and ancillary vehicles, with at least 50 personnel involved. This raises an additional concern about transferring COVID-19 risk to and from the Scottish bases, which are already known to have cases of infections.

Amidst COVID-19 pandemic, US Department of Defense urges Mexico to reopen factories that supply US weapon manufacturers 

Ellen Lord, US Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment said she would write Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard “to ask for help to reopen international suppliers” in Mexico. Many US defense firms, particularly aircraft manufacturers, rely on Mexican suppliers, many of whom have closed or slowed operations during the pandemic. The Pentagon’s supply-chain dependence on Mexico has grown over the past decade as defense firms large and small outsourced production.

UN acting special envoy: Libya is becoming an experimental arms field

The UN acting special envoy Stephanie Williams said that Libya is turning into “an experimental field for all types of new weapons systems,” with foreign supporters of the warring parties shipping in arms and fighters in violation of an embargo. Libya’s conflict escalated sharply this month, with fighting on several fronts in the west of the country.

Canadian prime minister announces immediate ban on 1,500 types of 'assault-style' firearms after gun massacre

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 makes and models of military-grade "assault-style" weapons in Canada, with immediate effect. As of 1 May, licensed gun owners will no longer be allowed to sell, transport, import or use these sorts of weapons in Canada. The firearms ban came less than two weeks after the Nova Scotia gun massacre, killing 18 people, and an incident Trudeau called "the deadliest rampage in our country's history."

Human Rights Watch: COVID-19 Apps pose serious human rights risks

Human Rights Watch released a detailed Q&A about mobile location tracking programmes that governments are using in the fight against COVID-19. It finds that the programmes may introduce unnecessary and disproportionate surveillance measures in public health disguise. Human Rights Watch warned that governments and the private sector should not promote or use unproven and untested technology. 

Stimson Center launches new programme on the real-world uses of Blockchain for international security

The Stimson Center launched a new programme, Blockchain in Practice, to explore the application of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to address international security challenges. The programme will test the potential for DLT platforms to increase efficiency, trust, and transparency in the management of safeguards information, nuclear security, dual-use chemicals, and export controls.

Recommended reading

Various authors, WILPF blog series on COVID-19, March–May 2020

Cynthia Enloe, “Pulling my COVID-19 language out of the trenches,” The quarantine files: Thinkers in self-isolation, Los Angeles Review of Books, 14 April 2020

William D. Hartung and Ben Freeman, “How the military-industrial complex is using the coronavirus,” The Nation, 17 April 2020

Ray Acheson, “A sustainable ceasefire means no more business as usual,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 17 April 2020

Ray Acheson, “Multilateralism matters,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 24 April 2020

“The impact of artificial intelligence on strategic stability and nuclear risk,” Volume III, South Asian Perspectives, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), April 2020

Filippa Lentzos and Isobel Butorac, “Neurotechnology overview: Why we need a treaty to regulate weapons controlled by...thinking,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28 April 2020

Tom Sauer and Ramesh Thakur, “How many intensive care beds will a nuclear weapon explosion require?,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28 April 2020

Richard Norton-Taylor, “Pride: why the UK spent billions on nuclear bombs but ignored pandemic threat,” openDemocracy, 30 April 2020

Kelsey Gallagher, “Urban conflict: A breeding ground for COVID-19,” Project Ploughshares, 30 April 2020

“The environmental legacy of nuclear weapons production: Five legacies,” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, May 2020

Claudia Webbe, “Now is the perfect moment to stop using wartime language and call for a global ceasefire instead,” The Independent, 1 May 2020

Lilly Adams, “Nuclear weapons, frontline communities, and the COVID stimulus. What you need to know,” Union of Concerned Scientists, 4 May 2020

Mandy Smithberger, “Why are we still prioritizing military spending?,” The Nation, 5 May 2020

Cesar Jaramillo, “Canada must resist US efforts to further undermine the Iran nuclear deal,” Project Ploughshares, 5 May 2020

Ray Acheson, “Divest, demilitarise, and disarm,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 5 May 2020

Jon Letman, “What the coronavirus can teach us about nuclear weapons,” Responsible Statecraft, 6 May 2020

Karl Grossman, “COVID-19 and a new, better world,” counterpunch, 8 May 2020

Balthasar Staehelin and Cécile Aptel, “COVID-19 and contact tracing: a call for digital diligence,” Humanitarian Law & Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 13 May 2020

Ray Acheson, “Foreign military bases spread violence and virus,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 14 May 2020 

Ray Acheson, "Gender-based violence and the arms trade"; Allison Pytlak, "Are Arms Trade Treaty meetings being used to their full potential?"; Sam Perlo-Freeman, "The ATT and war profiteering: the case of the UK"; Deepayan Basu Ray, "Commentary: Making sense of the world that the ATT and the SDGs are designed to ‘fix’," in Global responsibility to protect, Volume 12, Issue 2, May 2020