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January 28, 2004
January/February 2018
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Wednesday, January 10, 2018
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BWC Talks Score Surprise Success

January/February 2018
By Jenifer Mackby

States-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), meeting in Geneva on Dec. 4-8, reached a last-minute accord on a substantive three-year work program leading to the 2021 review conference.

South Korean military biochemical-warfare soldiers talk during an anti-terror exercise in Seoul on August 17, 2011. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)As a result, countries will continue the annual meetings of experts, called intersessionals, conducted since 2003 to consider ways to strengthen the implementation of the global ban on biological and toxin weapons and respond to current challenges. Those issues have become more pressing amid reports that countries such as North Korea, a party to the convention, may have obtained equipment and materials to conduct an advanced bioweapons program, although some experts caution this cannot be verified.

Because states-parties failed to agree on such an intersessional work program at the BWC review conference a year ago, many countries anticipated that the December meeting likewise would be unable to reach consensus. Among the obstacles, Iran had insisted that states should return to negotiating a verification protocol. Those talks ended in 2001 when the United States claimed that the protocol would not strengthen BWC compliance and could harm U.S. national security and commercial interests.

Other nonaligned states and China at the 2016 review conference also supported returning to protocol negotiations, but did not insist on it as a condition for intersessional work. Many countries emphasized the importance of reviewing the rapid advances in science and technology, in particular gene editing; and China, Brazil, and others supported a code of conduct and export control regime.

Under the widely praised chairmanship of Amandeep Gill, India’s representative to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, states-parties worked out an intricate framework for discussing the issues on which they have sharply differing views. They decided to set up separate expert groups on the following five key issues:

  • strengthening cooperation and assistance (e.g., exchanges in biological sciences and technology, including equipment and material, for peaceful purposes, building capacity for detecting outbreaks of infectious diseases and biological weapon attacks);
  • reviewing developments in science and technology (e.g., genome editing and developing a model code of conduct);
  • strengthening national implementation (e.g., promoting confidence building and measures of export control);
  • assistance, response, and preparedness (e.g., establishment of an assistance database and examination of how mobile biomedical units might contribute to effective assistance and response); and
  • institutional strengthening of the convention (e.g., through additional legal and other measures).

At the beginning of the meeting, many countries supported a proposal from Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States on elements for an intersessional program. This was significant because the three depositary countries had not submitted a joint document for more than 10 years due to their widely divergent views. In an effort to achieve compromise, they proposed working groups on science and technology, national implementation, international cooperation, and preparedness, response, and assistance. The groups and states-parties would meet for up to 15 days each year.

Meanwhile, nonaligned countries emphasized negotiation of a verification protocol and the need for enhancing international cooperation, assistance, and exchanges in toxins, biological agents equipment, and technology (e.g., vaccines) for peaceful purposes.

Some of the exchanges were rather harsh. Mohsen Naziri Asl, permanent Iranian ambassador to the UN organizations in Geneva, noted that since the protocol negotiations were “blocked” in 2001, “strengthening of the convention has yet become captive [to the] policy of one party.” He further stated that “discriminatory measures” would limit the transfer of equipment, materials, and scientific and technological knowledge, as well as the capacity for state-parties to benefit from new advances in bioscience and biotechnology.

Jorge Valero, Venezuela’s permanent representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, opened the door slightly to compromise. He stated on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that although the NAM considers that negotiation on a legally binding agreement is “the only sustainable method” of strengthening the BWC, the group recognizes the “value of the intersessional ad-hoc mechanism for promoting the objectives of the convention.”

Robert Wood, U.S. special representative for BWC issues, noted that the December meeting was the only chance to find a way to make substantive progress until the next review conference in 2021. “If we do not, we abdicate our responsibilities,” he said. “We must continue to combat the threat of biological weapons in spite of whatever differences may exist between us.”

By the third day of the five-day meeting, when there was no agreement in sight, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, claimed, “There are almost no agreed mechanisms to contribute to the implementation of the provisions of the convention, and this clearly indicates where we must focus our efforts.”

Asserting that countries needed to find some common ground in the next 48 hours or there would be no tangible work on the BWC for the next three years, he said he was prepared to seek a compromise. “Otherwise, we will have failed in our efforts, and I would very much like to avoid that,” Ulyanov said.

When agreement was finally reached on the five topics, states decided that the meetings of experts and meetings of states-parties will be held for 12 days in each of the three years prior to the ninth review conference in 2021. Chairmanship of the meetings will rotate among the Western, Eastern European, and nonaligned groups of states.

Each meeting of experts and meeting of states-parties will report to the review conference, which will consider future action. If the states had failed to agree on an intersessional program, there was concern that smaller groups of countries would deliberate issues outside of the BWC framework, which would diminish the convention’s relevance. Agreement to continue work in an intersessional framework is seen as recognition of the importance of keeping the 1972 BWC current.

With the addition of Samoa, BWC membership totals 179 countries. Israel and Namibia, which have not signed or ratified the convention, participated in the meeting as observers, while Syria and Tanzania, which have signed but not ratified, participated without the right to vote. States-parties noted that overdue assessments and new UN financial rules have created serious difficulties for funding the meetings of the BWC and the three members of the UN staff, called the Implementation Support Unit, who face short-term contracts with no promises of renewal. The states-parties requested that the chairman of the December meeting prepare a paper on measures to ensure financial sustainability.

States-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), meeting in Geneva on Dec. 4-8, reached a last-minute accord on a substantive three-year work program leading to the 2021 review conference.

CWC Parties Discuss Chemical Threats

January/February 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

States-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at their annual meeting late last year welcomed progress on stockpile destruction in several states that possess chemical weapons, but continued to argue over chemical weapons use in Syria and express concern over emerging chemical threats. The meeting, also known as the Conference of States Parties, elected the next director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which implements the CWC.

Fernando Arias of Spain was elected with widespread support as the next director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. (Photo: OPCW)States-parties have destroyed 96 percent of declared chemical weapons arsenals. Russia completed the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile in September 2017, while the United States has destroyed 93 percent of its declared arsenal. (See ACT, October 2017.) Ahmet Üzümcü, OPCW director-general, announced at the meeting that Iraq had completed encapsulating its two remaining bunkers with chemical weapons remnants and that Libya completed destruction of its Category 2 chemicals.

The growing divide between the United States and Russia on the use of chemical weapons in Syria sparked heated debate, but had little impact on the outcome of the Nov. 27-Dec. 1 conference.

U.S.-Russian tensions over chemical weapons attacks in Syria have reached a new high after several attempts to extend the mandate of a body investigating the attacks failed at the UN Security Council in November, largely due to Russia’s vetoes. (See ACT, December 2017.) The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) had been established previously by the United Nations and the OPCW to determine responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria. The JIM investigates cases of chemical weapons use in Syria, which are confirmed by an OPCW fact-finding mission.

Andrea Hall, senior director for weapons of mass destruction at the U.S. National Security Council, said in her opening address to the conference that the fact-finding mission has an additional 60 cases to investigate. In 2017, the JIM determined that the Syrian government used sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun and that the Islamic State used sulfur mustard gas in Um-Housh. (See ACT, November 2017.)

Russia continued to oppose the accusations against its ally, the Assad regime in Syria. Gregory Kalamanov, deputy minister of the Russian Ministry for Industry and Trade, in his remarks called the allegations against Syria “unfounded,” arguing that it was being subjected to a “double standard” and that the countries that supported JIM’s findings were “acting on their own political interests.”

Belarus, with Russian backing, introduced a joint statement calling for the depoliticization of the OPCW, arguing that investigations should be based on “objective and thoroughly verified evidence.” The document was not adopted, but prompted a lengthy and heated exchange involving, among others, Russia, Syria, and the United States.

At the conference, Venezuela unsuccessfully put itself forward as the fifth candidate for the four-person delegation to represent Latin American and Caribbean countries in the OPCW Executive Council starting in May 2018. The unusual move was likely an effort to tilt the balance in the council in favor of Russia and Syria, Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent researcher attending the conference, told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 18 interview.

In an unprecedented secret ballot involving all states parties attending the Conference of States Parties, Venezuela was soundly rejected in favor of the four candidates already selected by the Latin American and Caribbean group as its representatives. Still, several states-parties afterwards expressed concern about the precedent set by Venezuela’s actions, adding that the selection of candidates for the Executive Council should be a decision for the regional groups only.

A joint paper issued by 39 countries presented concerns about the emergence of aerosolized chemical weapons that target the central nervous system. These states maintain that such chemicals, which include anesthetics, sedatives, and analgesics, are different from riot control agents, which produce temporary “sensory irritation or disabling physical effects” and are allowed for law enforcement purposes under the CWC. The paper may signal an effort to put the item back on the agenda for the upcoming CWC review conference, Zanders told Arms Control Today.

South Sudan, one of four countries not party to the treaty, announced that it had completed an internal review that green-lights its accession to the accord. Moses M. Akol Ajawin, director-general for international cooperation in the South Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, announced that the country’s Council of Ministers had resolved on Aug. 25, 2017, to “approve membership in the OPCW,” adding that South Sudan “looks forward to becoming the newest and youngest” state-party.

Fernando Arias of Spain was officially elected with widespread support as the next OPCW director-general. Arias currently serves as Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and was previously Spain’s permanent representative to the United Nations. During his candidacy for the post, he pledged to work to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons, fight chemical terrorism and engage in public outreach. The Executive Council chose Arias as the final candidate in October from an original field of seven candidates. (See ACT, November 2017.) He begins his four-year term on July 25.

States-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at their annual meeting late last year welcomed progress on stockpile destruction in several states that possess chemical weapons, but continued to argue over chemical weapons use in Syria and express concern over emerging chemical threats.

Iran Talks Focus on Sanctions Relief

January/February 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Sanctions relief was a key topic of discussion at a regular meeting between Iran and six countries on implementation of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

With missile remains as a backdrop, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accuses Iran of violating Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms. She spoke at Joint Base Anacostia near Washington on December 14, 2017. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)The quarterly meeting of the Joint Commission, the body set up by the JCPOA to oversee the nuclear deal and comprised of representatives from all seven states and the European Union, was chaired by Helga Schmid, secretary-general of the European External Action Service, and held on Dec. 13.

Ahead of the meeting in Vienna, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that banks and companies are “afraid” of doing business with Iran because of U.S. actions and that this issue would be a main point of discussion. In a statement following the meeting, Schmid said the participants “extensively reviewed progress” on lifting sanctions and noted that a working group on sanctions had met the previous day.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who headed Iran’s delegation to the meeting, told reporters that the body needs to deal “more assertively” with what he described as U.S. noncompliance with the nuclear accord. All members of the Joint Commission raised concerns about the United States “very explicitly” and stressed the importance of Washington continuing to meet its commitments, he said.

Schmid’s public statement did not specifically mention the United States, saying that all participants “recalled the need for continued implementation of sanctions lifting to allow for the effective realization of the benefits envisioned under the JCPOA.” Her statement also noted the value of addressing challenges related to sanctions relief in forums set up by the accord.

Washington has continued to waive sanctions as required, but Iran has argued that certain U.S. actions have violated the “spirit” of the deal. (See ACT, September 2017.) The Trump administratizon will need to waive sanctions again in mid-January to remain in compliance.

Schmid’s statement said that the states welcomed the news that the International Atomic Energy Agency, in its quarterly report in November, again “confirmed Iran’s continued adherence” to its nuclear-related commitments. The parties also welcomed the work done to advance implementation of Annex III, which lays out recommendations for cooperation between Iran and other states on civil nuclear activities, according to the statement.

Although her statement did not reference specific activities, EU and Iranian representatives met in Isfahan on Nov. 21-22 for the second high-level seminar on nuclear cooperation.

A joint statement released on Nov. 22 said that Iran and the EU discussed the latest developments in nuclear governance, including nuclear safety, nuclear liability, and spent fuel management, and agreed to hold a workshop on nuclear liability and insurance in 2018. The statement noted the cooperative projects that were underway, including stress tests at the Bushehr reactor and a feasibility study on the establishment of a nuclear safety center in Iran.

At a Dec. 12 meeting of the EU Parliament, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, called attention to the importance of civil nuclear cooperation. Mogherini said the civil nuclear cooperation projects make the nuclear deal “more solid through increased transparency.”

UN Report on Resolution 2231

UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a report tied to the nuclear deal on Dec. 13.

The biannual report is required under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal and laid out restrictions on Iran’s missile and conventional weapons activities.

The report noted that Saudi Arabia, in a letter to the Security Council president and UN secretary-general, said that Iran had a role in manufacturing the missiles launched at its territory from Yemen in July and November 2017 in “flagrant violation” of council resolutions. Under Resolution 2231, Iran is prohibited from selling or transferring ballistic missiles or certain missile-related items without the prior approval of the Security Council. Iran denied the allegations as “baseless and unfounded.”

The report noted that the UN Secretariat examined the debris from the missiles and concluded that the diameter was “consistent” with that of the Scud models and that components bore a logo similar to an Iranian entity designated by Resolution 2231. The report said that the secretariat is still analyzing the information and material and will report back to the council.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley displayed at the UN on Dec. 14 what she said were parts of the missile launched at Riyadh and remarked on similarities to Iran’s Qiam missile. She said that there are “many pieces of evidence that tell us of this missile’s Iranian origins.” The U.S. intelligence community has concluded “unequivocally” that the missile was supplied by the Iranian regime in violation of Resolution 2231, she said.

According to the report, the secretariat is also investigating possible violations of Resolution 2231 requirements that prohibit Iran from transferring certain conventional armaments without prior approval from the Security Council. The report encouraged all states to continue to support and implement the nuclear deal and specifically called on the United States to “maintain its commitments.”

Sanctions relief was a key topic of discussion at a regular meeting between Iran and six countries on implementation of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Verification Group Moves to Second Phase

January/February 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) has developed a verifiable framework process for dismantling nuclear weapons and outlined the next phase of its work. It concluded its first phase after convening its fifth plenary meeting in Buenos Aires on Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

Nuclear Threat Initiative President Joan Rohlfing (R) addresses the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification plenary in Buenos Aires on November 29, 2017.  (Photo: Courtesy of the Nuclear Threat Initiative)The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and U.S. Department of State established the public-private partnership in 2014 to address the technical challenges involved in nuclear disarmament verification. More than 25 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states have participated in the initiative, which has held three working group meetings in addition to plenary sessions. The working groups focused on monitoring and verification, on-site inspection, and technical challengesto verification.

Building on past dismantlement and verification exercises, including U.S.-Russian experience and a UK-Norwegian initiative, the working groups collaborated to outline a 14-step process for verifiable nuclear warhead dismantlement. The groups acknowledged that further work is needed, including testing several of the promising technologies and procedures and addressing additional disarmament steps beyond warhead dismantlement.

The IPNDV will form three new working groups in the next phase of its work to address outstanding issues on verification of nuclear weapons declarations, verification of reductions, and technologies for verification. The work is intended to contribute to the discussion on verification issues at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in 2020.

“Specifically, the partnership will be able to leverage its experience and expertise to look into issues such as how to verify declarations, data handling requirements across the inspection process, and the use of technologies to enable measurements of special nuclear material and high explosives, all while preventing the disclosure of proliferation-sensitive information,” Anita Friedt, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, said at the opening of the plenary.

NTI President Joan Rohlfing, also speaking at the beginning of the plenary, hailed the initiative as a unifying step forward as international disarmament dialogue grows ever more divisive. “We are doing the difficult ‘technical homework’ over a sustained, multi-year process that will enable future disarmament to take place when the political environment allows it,” she said.

While the majority of the participants have been nuclear-weapons states and so-called umbrella states, which receive security guarantees from nuclear-armed states, such as Finland, Japan, and Poland, a few of the negotiators of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, including Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, also contributed to the effort. Russia and China, which participated as observers in phase one of the project, will not participate in phase two.

Participants describe the IPNDV as part of nuclear-weapon states’ fulfillment of NPT's Article VI, which obligates those states to pursue good faith negotiations towards disarmament.

The IPNDV intends to share the results of phase two at the upcoming 2020 NPT Review Conference, where compliance with Article VI by nuclear-weapon states has long been a point of contention. The first meeting of phase two of the initiative will take place in Sweden in March 2018.

The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) has developed a verifiable framework process for dismantling nuclear weapons and outlined the next phase of its work.

U.S.-Saudi Nuke Pact Talks to Begin

January/February 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration is poised to begin negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia amid concerns of some lawmakers about whether the administration will seek sufficiently strong nonproliferation safeguards.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry (L) and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih (R) shake hands after a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding on carbon management, on December 4, 2017 in Riyadh. (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)During a visit to Saudi Arabia in early December, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said that formal talks will begin soon on a civilian nuclear pact, known as a 123 agreement. Such an agreement, named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that requires it, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

In a Dec. 13 briefing for Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members, officials from the State and Energy departments said that the administration has yet to determine whether it will insist that Saudi Arabia agree to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing should talks begin, according to a Reuters report. These activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and produce nuclear explosive material.

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans for nuclear power, but currently has no nuclear power plants. The kingdom plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association.

On Nov. 28, Christopher Ford, then-special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation on the National Security Council staff, told the committee in testimony that a ban on enrichment and reprocessing in an agreement with Saudi Arabia “is not a legal requirement, it is a desired outcome.” He said the preliminary talks with the Saudis on a nuclear deal had begun but that he could not provide details in public.

Ford was confirmed by the Senate in December as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.

Supporters of a ban on enrichment and reprocessing say that such an approach is critical to nonproliferation efforts and that the United States should demonstrate leadership in this area. They note that the Middle East is an unstable region and some current and former Saudi officials and members of the royal family have warned of matching Iran’s nuclear capability.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at the Nov. 28 hearing that a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia should include the same nonproliferation standards as those contained in the agreement the United States negotiated with the United Arab Emirates in 2009.

In that agreement, the UAE made a legally binding commitment not to pursue an indigenous enrichment or reprocessing program. (See ACT, June 2009.) “[I]f we don't draw a line in the Middle East,” Cardin said, “it's going to be all-out proliferation.”

An aide to Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told Arms Control Today that “if the Trump administration is negotiating a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia, Congress must be notified and involved.” “We should not compromise on important nonproliferation controls before even being asked to do so in an attempt to conclude an agreement that could enable commercial cooperation,” the aide added.

Opponents of a ban on enrichment and reprocessing argue that such a policy would likely be unacceptable to Riyadh, stymie prospects for U.S. companies to sell nuclear goods, and drive potential buyers to nuclear supplier countries such as France and Russia, which have less rigorous nonproliferation requirements than the United States.

President Donald Trump has pledged to revitalize the U.S. nuclear industry by allowing it to better compete with other supplier countries. The administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. policy toward civil nuclear power.

After the Indian nuclear test explosion in 1974, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in 1978 to mandate that nuclear cooperation agreements include tougher bulwarks to prevent U.S. nuclear assistance from being diverted to military uses. The amendment put in place nine provisions, including the requirement that recipients of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation have in place full-scope international safeguards and may not conduct activities such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing unless Washington first consents. The Atomic Energy Act has not been updated since 1978.

In a May 2008 memorandum of understanding with the United States on nuclear energy cooperation, Saudi Arabia committed “to rely on international markets for nuclear fuel and to not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies.” The Obama administration beginning in 2012 engaged in periodic talks with Riyadh on a 123 agreement, but was unable to strike a deal, in part due to Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness to stick to that 2008 pledge.

Saudi Arabia ratified the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1988 and concluded a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2009. But Riyadh has neither signed nor ratified an additional protocol, which provides the IAEA with expanded rights of access to nuclear information and locations.

The United States has not in recent years negotiated a 123 agreement with a state that had not signed an additional protocol.

The Trump administration is poised to begin negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia amid concerns of some lawmakers about whether the administration will seek sufficiently strong nonproliferation safeguards.

Mine Ban Membership Grows

January/February 2018
By Jeff Abramson

The Mine Ban Treaty added two new members in December, as the convention marked 20 years since it was opened for signature. During their annual meeting, states-parties welcomed progress and addressed rising casualties, while reasserting a collective goal to meet the treaty’s obligations to the fullest extent possible by 2025.

Rohingya refugee Rashida Begum stands next to her son in a Bangladeshi hospital as he is treated September 30, 2017, after being injured by a landmine while fleeing Myanmar. (Photo: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)Sri Lanka acceded to the treaty Dec. 13, five days before the Dec. 18-21 meeting of states-parties held in Vienna. The Palestinian delegation announced its intention to accede as a states-party during the meeting, completing the process Dec. 29. The treaty will enter into force for both on June 1, bringing the convention to 164 states-parties.

At the meeting, delegations reacted to a report that casualties from landmines, cluster munition remnants, and other remnants of war had risen to at least 8,605 in 2016, the second year of sharp increases from the 3,993 casualties identified in 2014. The 2016 toll was near the number recorded in 1999, when the treaty entered into force. Much of the increase was due to mines used in armed conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, and Yemen, according to the annual “Landmine Monitor” report. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a civil society coalition, released the report just prior to the meeting.

The use of landmines by armed forces in Myanmar along border crossings with Bangladesh and the resulting harm to fleeing Rohingya civilians drew international attention and outcry in 2017. The report identified Myanmar and Syria, neither of which is party to the treaty, as the only countries where it could be confirmed that government forces used landmines in the year prior to the meeting. Nonstate armed groups were responsible for much of the new use of mines, often improvised devices, in at least nine countries. Certain victim-activated improvised explosive devices are considered to fall under the treaty’s definition of anti-personnel landmines, which detonate due to “the presence, proximity or contact of a person.”

In response, delegates adopted a final report that again condemned any use of landmines. “On the 20th anniversary, there is no time for complacency,” said Austria’s Thomas Hajnoczi, who served as president of the meeting.

Approximately 60 countries have landmine contamination, more than half of which are states-parties to the treaty. During the meeting, delegates welcomed a declaration from Algeria that it had completed clearance, and they granted extension requests to five countries. Under the treaty, states have 10 years to clear contamination, but extensions are possible. The meeting also welcomed a declaration from Belarus that it had completely destroyed its stockpile of landmines, after it had missed its four-year deadline in 2008. In total, states-parties have destroyed more than 53 million anti-personnel landmines.

The United States, not party to the treaty, again attended the meeting as an observer as it has done since 2009. During the meeting, Steve Costner, deputy director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. State Department and head of the U.S. delegation confirmed to Arms Control Today that the U.S. landmine policy has remained unchanged. That policy, announced in 2014, disavowed production and acquisition of landmines prohibited by the treaty, permits their use only on the Korean peninsula, and set a goal to “ultimately comply with and accede” to the treaty. (See ACT, October 2014)

Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Switzerland and the United Nations in Geneva, will preside over the 2018 meeting, scheduled for Nov. 26-30 in Geneva. In concluding his statement, Hajnoczi said that “given the remaining challenges, redoubling our efforts to fulfill the aspiration is imperative to achieve a world free of anti-personnel mines by 2025.”

The Mine Ban Treaty added two new members in December, as the convention marked 20 years since it was opened for signature

‘Killer Robot’ Debates Planned

At the annual meeting of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), delegates from 91 states agreed to continue formal deliberations on the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, the technology often popularly called “killer robots,” at two conferences this year.

The Defender, an experimental robotic platform able to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting tasks, is shown in a 2008 photo. The system was designed to be operated remotely by military personnel, although technology advances could make possible a similar system able to operate autonomously. (U.S. Air Force photo)The first meeting of the CCW group of governmental experts on these systems, which included interested states-parties and civil society groups, met on Nov. 13-17 in Geneva to discuss the topic for the first time in a formal session. Annual informal meetings of experts had been convened to discuss the systems from 2014 to 2016. The fifth review conference of the CCW in December 2016 established a formal group to meet in 2017 with a mandate to “explore and agree on possible recommendations” regarding the emerging technologies. (See ACT, January/February 2017). The experts group decided to extend its mandate and hold two more one-week sessions this year. The full conference of the CCW, which met in Geneva on Nov. 22-24, affirmed that decision.

Many nongovernmental groups advocating for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems welcomed the extension, but expressed frustration at the lack of progress in negotiating any legal instruments despite growing concerns among civil society groups, scientists, and parliamentarians. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition, said in a Nov. 24 statement that it “remains disappointed that all countries seem able to do is roll-over the previously agreed mandate and meet for just 10 days during 2018. This decision does not reflect a sense of urgency.”

According to the group, 22 states now support a legally binding instrument to pre-emptively prohibit these systems before they are deployed by any states. China, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are among the countries developing the technology.—MACLYN SENEAR

‘Killer Robot’ Debates Planned

India Joins Wassenaar Arrangement

India was admitted into the Wassenaar Arrangement as its 42nd member Dec. 7 following the group’s annual plenary in Vienna. The Wassenaar Arrangement, established in July 1996, is a voluntary export control regime. Members share information on conventional weapons transfers and dual-use goods and technologies.

Experts assess that India is interested in joining export control regimes to bolster its bid to be included in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a nuclear technology control group. Despite U.S. backing, that group has not reached consensus on admitting India, which, alongside Pakistan, formally applied to join in June 2016, the same month India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). (See ACT, July/August 2016.)

Alexandre Ziegler, France’s ambassador to India, welcomed the admission decision, calling it in a tweet “one more recognition, after MTCR, of the growing role India plays in the world.” Critics contend that India should not have been admitted because it is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which was a requirement for the admission of other Wassenaar Arrangement members.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

India Joins Wassenaar Arrangement

Defense Bill Restricts CTBTO Funding

The most recent annual National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law on Dec. 12, includes language restricting U.S. financial contributions to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), except for funds related to the International Monitoring System, which detects nuclear test explosions. The CTBTO is the international organization that promotes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in advance of its entry into force and builds up its verification regime.

Infrasound arrays at the International Monitoring System station in Greenland is shown in this August 13, 2009 photo. The U.S. defense authorization bill allows for continued contributions to the monitoring system operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.  (CTBTO Preparatory Commission photo)The provision was originally inserted into the House version of the bill. Although not included in the Senate bill, the measure was incorporated into the conference bill, which passed the House on Nov. 14 and the Senate two days later.

The bill also includes an assertion that UN Security Council Resolution 2310, passed in September 2016, calling for the treaty’s early entry into force and the continuation of nuclear testing moratoria does not “obligate the United States nor does it impose an obligation” to refrain from actions that would run counter to the treaty. The amendment’s supporters argue that the United States should not be bound by or contribute financially to a treaty the Senate has not ratified. Opponents of the provision contend that it could signal a weakened U.S. commitment to the global moratoria on nuclear testing and undercut support for the treaty.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Defense Bill Restricts CTBTO Funding

U.S. Undoes Cluster Munitions Ban

In a policy shift, the United States removed a ban on the use of most of its cluster munitions inventory that was to take effect at the end of 2018. A Nov. 30 memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan revised a 2008 policy that called for completely phasing out the possible use of cluster munitions that fail to operate as intended more than 1 percent of the time.

The new policy keeps those weapons in active U.S. stocks until the “capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions.” How that might occur remains unclear. The last U.S. manufacturer who produced cluster munitions that Washington claims meet the 1 percent threshold stopped making them in 2016 and does not intend to renew production, according to The New York Times. The United States stopped buying new cluster munitions for its military in 2007 and, except for a single strike in Yemen in 2009, has not used them since early 2003.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse explosive submunitions over wide areas. Many submunitions fail to detonate as designed, leaving explosive remnants that later injure or kill civilians. More than 100 countries are states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of the weapons. At the latest convention meeting, treaty members, which include a majority of NATO countries and many U.S. allies such as Australia and Japan, renewed their condemnation of any use. (See ACT, October 2017.)

The new policy retained the previous policy’s requirement for a combatant commander to authorize the use of cluster munitions that would have been phased out. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who in April 2017 introduced legislation that would have barred the use of such weapons, criticized the new policy. “It’s a shame the United States will continue to be a global outlier in using these unreliable and dangerous weapons, and I call on the president to reverse course and reinstate the 2008 policy,” Feinstein said.

Although the policy memo did not list specific places where cluster munitions would be needed, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Dec. 4 said the administration made a “prudent decision to preserve cluster munitions to deter North Korean aggression.”—JEFF ABRAMSON

U.S. Undoes Cluster Munitions Ban


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