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– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
News Briefs

Mine Ban Treaty Members Reaffirm Goals

January/February 2020
By Owen LeGrone

Parties to the 164-nation Mine Ban Treaty recommitted to their plans to eradicate landmines by 2025 during the treaty’s fourth review conference in Oslo on Nov. 25-30. More than 700 delegates gathered to mark the treaty’s 20 years since entry into force.

De-miners work to clear mines in Muhamalai, Sri Lanka in 2019. The Mine Ban Treaty held its fourth review conference in November 2019. (Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)Conference participants adopted the Oslo Action Plan and the Oslo Declaration on a Mine-Free World, documents that reaffirmed their intent to achieve full treaty compliance, including mine destruction and clearance, “to the fullest extent possible” by 2025. Full compliance was a goal originally stated in the Maputo Action Plan, created at the 2014 review conference.

The Oslo Action Plan established a 50-point program of action, which included measures to facilitate treaty universalization, stockpile destruction, mine clearance, risk education, and international cooperation. It also highlighted the need to provide continuing assistance for victims of mines. Margaret Arach Orech, a Ugandan landmine survivor and ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), told the conference that “mine-free does not mean victim-free” and that “victims will remain a core pillar of the convention” once its goal of eradicating mines around the world is accomplished.

Treaty members have made significant progress over the past two decades. Thirty-two states-parties and one other state with mine contamination have declared themselves mine-free, according to the 2019 report of the monitoring organization Mine Action Review. One state, Nigeria, announced new contamination in 2018 after having declared itself mine-free in 2011.

Treaty parties have destroyed more than 55 million landmines of the estimated 160 million that existed globally in 1999, according to statistics released in November in the annual “Landmine Monitor” report. The report estimates that there may now be fewer than 50 million landmines stockpiled globally, an estimated 45 million of which are held by nonsignatories such as Russia, Pakistan, India, China, and the United States, in descending order of stockpile size.

Conference participants noted recent challenges to the global norm against anti-personnel landmines created by the Mine Ban Treaty. Particularly concerning is an upswing in landmine deaths worldwide, due partly to increased violence in Afghanistan, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Syria, Ukraine, and other conflict regions. Although 2018 was marked by the lowest number of deaths and injuries in three years, 6,897 people were killed or injured by mines and explosive remnants of war, roughly twice the 2013 total.

For the third year in a row, the highest number of landmine casualties, more than 50 percent, were incurred by improvised mines used by nonstate armed groups. Three nonsignatory states—Myanmar, North Korea, and Syria—were also confirmed as having used mines since the previous review conference. None of the treaty’s signatories employed them, but Greece and Ukraine were identified by the 2019 report as continuing to violate their stockpile destruction commitments. The treaty requires states-parties to destroy their landmine stockpiles in four years.

Conference attendees also highlighted the gendered aspects of landmine issues. A group of 32 women and girls from 18 countries arrived with the ICBL delegation to take part in the Nov. 30 closing ceremony. Finland presented a report concerning gender mainstreaming within the membership of the treaty.

Sudan will preside over the next meeting of states-parties, scheduled to convene in Geneva in November 2020.

Now 20 years in force, the treaty has made significant progress toward its goal of ridding the world of anti-personnel landmines.

France Seeks Dialogue on Post-INF Treaty Arms Control

January/February 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron has rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a global U.S.-Russian moratorium on deploying intermediate-range missiles, but emphasized that Paris remains open to dialogue with Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after their meeting in Paris in November 2019. Macron has expressed a desire for European nations to become more involved in nuclear arms control.  (Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images)“We did not accept the moratorium offered by Russia, but we considered that we should not just ignore it because it was open for discussion,” Macron said at a Nov. 28 press conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It is in France’s interest, he said, to discuss such matters of security in a dialogue with Russia. NATO previously rejected Putin’s proposal in September, calling it not “credible.” (See ACT, October 2019.)

Macron also argued that Europe must be involved in any potential agreement that might replace the INF Treaty. “We cannot leave our security into the hands of a bilateral treaty to which no European country would be part of,” Macron stated.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Dec. 4 that Moscow supported Macron’s argument that Europe must be involved in the talks for any replacement arms control agreement. A day later, Putin commented in a meeting with defense officials that, apart from Macron, “[t]here is no response from our other partners. This forces us to take measures to counter these threats.”

At the end of the NATO leaders meeting Dec. 4 in London, the heads of state issued a declaration stating, “We are addressing and will continue to address in a measured and responsible way Russia’s deployment of new intermediate-range missiles, which brought about the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and which pose significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.”—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

France Seeks Dialogue on Post-INF Treaty Arms Control

Senator Refreshes Hold on Firearms Export Changes

January/February 2020

Trump administration proposals making changes to how certain firearms are exported were put on hold in December, just days before they could have been published. It was the second time in 2019 that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the administration to delay the changes.

His Dec. 10 request came one day after the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act was announced, which dropped a House-approved amendment to prohibit the changes. (See ACT, December 2019.) The latest version of the revised rules had been sent to Congress on Nov. 12, starting a 30-day clock before they could be formally published. The administration can now choose to ignore the hold, risking upsetting Menendez and others.

Under the proposed rules, export controls for semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition, as well as certain other weapons, would be moved from the State Department-led U.S. Munitions List to the Commerce Department-led Commerce Control List. In making such a change, Congress would no longer receive notifications of proposed sales.

As he did in a letter dated Feb. 22, when he first had placed a hold on the proposed rules, Menendez insisted that Congress continue to be notified. He indicated, however, that he would no longer insist on a hold related to 3D printing concerns. Revised rules proposed in November said that the Commerce Department would mandate licenses for online publication of 3D printing plans. Menendez still indicated concern and demanded that Commerce “maintain a policy of ‘presumption of denial’ for any license application."—JEFF ABRAMSON

Senator Refreshes Hold on Firearms Export Changes

BWC States Discuss New Technologies

January/February 2020

States-parties to the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) discussed the implications of emerging technologies and strategies to bolster emergency preparedness during their annual meeting in Geneva on Dec. 3–6.

The BWC bans the development or possession of biological weapons, but rapid advances in the biotechnology field require treaty participants to keep abreast of developments that could have military applications. The treaty has 183 states-parties and four signatory states. Only 10 states have not signed the treaty.

One expert recently stressed the BWC’s fundamental role in creating a global norm against the use of biological weapons. “Any government with any life science capability can now sequence and synthesize whatever it would like to do. Genomes can be engineered to give them new, potentially dangerous characteristics, transforming pathogens that are now benign into pathogens that have the ability to spread or be lethal,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health and Security at Johns Hopkins University, in Nov. 20 testimony before the Senate Armed Services emerging threats subcommittee. To adequately respond to genome sequencing and other emerging, destabilizing technologies, Inglesby advocated for governmental efforts to strengthen the BWC and its implementation by states.—JULIA MASTERSON

BWC States Discuss New Technologies

Japan Downplays Possibility of Hosting INF-Range Missiles

Japan’s new defense minister downplayed the prospect that Japan might host U.S. intermediate-range missiles formerly banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, speaking here on Sept. 11, said that as of Oct. 31, the United States and Japan had not discussed the possibility of Japan hosting U.S. intermediate-range missiles. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)In an Oct. 31 interview with The Financial Times, Defense Minister Taro Kono said, “The U.S. doesn’t have non-nuclear missiles that can be deployed yet. Maybe they’re in the phase of development. We have not been discussing any of it.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in August after the demise of the INF Treaty that he would like to see the deployment of U.S. conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Europe and Asia, ideally as soon as possible. South Korea and Australia said at the time that they were not considering such a deployment.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in November continued to rebuke the Trump administration for “dismantling” the treaty, saying that “our American colleagues were only engaged in searching for pretexts to get rid of the INF Treaty.” He also stated that Moscow will not deploy ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles until the United States does.

The Pentagon has stated that it would conduct a test of a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of about 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers by the end of the year, but the test does not appear to have taken place yet. On Aug. 18, the United States flight-tested a ground-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty.

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles having ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.—SHANNON BUGOS

Japan Downplays Possibility of Hosting INF-Range Missiles

CWC States Update List of Banned Chemicals

After months of wrangling, the 24th conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) agreed on Nov. 28 to update the list of Schedule 1 chemicals banned by the treaty to include the advanced nerve agents known as Novichok.

A New Scotland Yard official speaks to the media in 2018 about the investigation into the use of the Novichok nerve agent to attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal in England in 2018.  (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Novichok was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War years before the CWC entered into force in 1997. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that it was used in the attempted assassination of Russian spy-turned-double-agent Sergei Skripal in 2018.

Russia initially objected to a proposal from Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States to add Novichok to the list of banned substances but shifted its position after states accepted its alternative proposal to add other types of chemicals to the Schedule 1 list.

The changes to the Schedule of the Annex on Chemicals will enter into force for all states-parties 180 days after the date of the notification sent by the OPCW director-general.

OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias noted in a statement issued Nov. 28 that “this is the first time in its history” that the annex has been updated.

“This is an important development that demonstrates the adaptability of the [CWC] to changing threats while enhancing the OPCW’s ability to remain vigilant, agile, and fit for purpose,” Arias said.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

CWC States Update List of Banned Chemicals

NRC Will Not Require Drone Defenses

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced on Oct. 30 that it would not require nuclear power plant operators to defend against drone attacks.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that U.S. nuclear power plants, such as New York's Indian Point Energy Center, need not take additional security measures to protect against drone attacks. (Photo: Tony Fischer/Flickr)The NRC sets protection requirements for nuclear power plants and has been studying the threat posed by drones for the past two years. In an unclassified summary published in October, the commission concluded that nuclear power plants “do not have any risk-significant vulnerabilities that could be exploited” by drone attacks that would result in “radiological sabotage” or theft of special nuclear material. The NRC said it would continue evaluating the impact of drone technologies.

Edwin Lyman, the acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a Nov. 4 press release that the decision “ignores the wide spectrum of threats that drones pose to nuclear facilities.” He said that the NRC “seems more interested in keeping the cost of nuclear plant security low than protecting Americans from terrorist sabotage that could cause a reactor meltdown.”

No nuclear power reactor worldwide appears to have been attacked by a drone to date, but Greenpeace flew a drone into a nuclear power reactor in France in July 2018 to demonstrate the site’s vulnerabilities.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

NRC Will Not Require Drone Defenses

Decision on Autonomous Weapons Talks Eludes CCW


States parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) discussed in November the danger of lethal autonomous weapons systems, often referred to as “killer robots,” but could not agree to begin a formal process of creating a legal instrument to govern their development and use. This is the fifth year in which the topic has been addressed by the CCW, which seeks to control especially harmful or indiscriminate conventional arms.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has called for a treaty to ban lethal autonomous weapons. (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)In the final report of the CCW’s annual meeting, adopted by consensus after considerable debate, the members of the CCW endorsed guiding principles for autonomous weapons that had been drafted in August by a Group of Governmental Experts. These state that international humanitarian law applies fully to autonomous weapons and that “human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained.”

Some parties, as well as civil society representatives, derided the lack of progress toward a more comprehensive prohibition. Several dozen states are in support of some form of legal framework binding autonomous weapons development and use, and 30 have explicitly supported banning them by treaty, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The group, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, stated that “pressure is building on states to launch negotiations on a new treaty on fully autonomous weapons without delay.”

The states parties to the CCW agreed that the Group of Governmental Experts will meet again for two five-day sessions in 2020 to continue their discussion on the “aspects of the normative and operational framework” of autonomous weapons. Additional days of discussion are also planned for 2021.—OWEN LeGRONE

Decision on Autonomous Weapons Talks Eludes CCW

U.S. Alleges New Syrian Chlorine Attack

U.S. officials have confirmed the United States believes that Syria once again has used chlorine-based weapons, this time in a May 2019 strike in Syria’s Latakia Province. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. intelligence assessment indicates that the May 19 attack was conducted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and killed at least four people.

A Syrian girl holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a makeshift hospital following a reported gas attack in Douma on the outskirts of the capital Damascus in 2018.  (Photo: Hasan Mohamed/AFP/Getty Images)The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Syria acceded in 2013, prohibits the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons. A joint investigative mechanism led by the treaty’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations has verified the sporadic but regular use of chemical weapons and of other toxic chemicals, including chlorine, in Syria since 2014.

Although the OPCW defines chemical weapons as “any chemical intended for chemical weapons purposes” and includes chlorine on a list of chemical choking agents, chlorine gas is a dual-use chemical and not a scheduled agent explicitly banned by the CWC. Consequently, the Syrian government’s supplies of chlorine were not part of the OPCW-led removal and destruction of Syria’s sarin and mustard arsenal and precursor chemicals, executed shortly after Syria’s accession to the CWC. (See ACT, December 2014.)—JULIA MASTERSON

U.S. Alleges New Syrian Chlorine Attack

China Considers Joining ATT


China expressed an interest in becoming a party to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27.

In a prepared speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi stated that his country had “initiated the domestic legal procedures to join” the treaty. Shortly afterward, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang clarified that China is “striving for its accession to the ATT at an early date.”

China previously released a statement expressing an interest in joining the ATT on April 30, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s public rejection of the agreement. The treaty had been signed in September 2013 by the Obama administration but never ratified. At an April 26 event hosted by the National Rifle Association, Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the treaty, claiming that it would allow “foreign bureaucrats” to “trample” on freedoms guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ATT, which entered into force on Dec. 24, 2014, establishes international standards designed to prevent illegal arms sales and sales of arms that could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes, and other violations of international humanitarian law. It requires states-parties to create a domestic arms trade accounting system, regulate the brokering of weapons within their territory, report regularly on treaty implementation, and decline arms sales under certain conditions.

China's accession to the ATT, which now has 105 states-parties, would be significant because it is one of the world’s five largest global arms exporters.—OWEN LeGRONE

China Considers Joining ATT


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