"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

ICAN Wins Nobel Peace Prize

November 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its long-standing work to call attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and its integral role in the adoption of the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“It is the firm conviction of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that ICAN, more than anyone else, has in the past year given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigor,” the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee stated.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) displays the group’s banner October 6 in Geneva after it won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)ICAN, a coalition of 468 nongovernmental organizations in more than 100 countries, has pushed for a legal ban on nuclear weapons for a decade. The organization was thanked repeatedly by leading negotiating states on the prohibition treaty for its persistent efforts to bring the accord to fruition, including by the chair of the negotiations in remarks following the treaty’s adoption July 7. (See ACT, October 2017.)

“[T]he courage it took for a bunch of activists to pursue an idea through to international law, despite being stripped of funding and at times dignity, and the courage it took for 122 governments to stand up to the power of the bomb wielded by a handful of aggressive, warmongering governments, is what reflects the best of humanity and the most promise for our future as a species,” wrote Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will and a member of the ICAN steering committee, in an Oct. 9 editorial.

Following the award announcement, ICAN credited the “many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide” who helped achieve the treaty’s adoption, singling out for special note the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the hibakusha, “whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing this landmark agreement.”

Japan, while opposing the prohibition treaty despite the hibakusha’s central role in advocating for it, welcomed the increased awareness of disarmament and nonproliferation that could result from the prize. “Although ICAN’s activities to date are different from the Japanese government’s approach, we share the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons,” Japanese Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Norio Maruyama said in an Oct. 8 statement.

ICAN drew congratulatory comments from representatives of dozens of states meeting in the UN General Assembly First Committee, from countries that attended the nuclear prohibition treaty negotiations to a few that had boycotted them.

All nuclear-armed states and most NATO members boycotted the prohibition treaty negotiations, meaning the accord will have little immediate impact on existing nuclear arsenals. (See ACT, November 2016.) The Nobel committee acknowledged that the treaty will not “in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon,” but said that it does fill a “legal gap” as the first prohibition of nuclear weapons.

The award not only is prestigious recognition of ICAN, but also is intended to be what the Nobel committee said is a “call” on nuclear-armed states in particular to begin “serious negotiations” to eliminate nuclear weapons.

“I therefore hope this prize serves to inspire new momentum, dialogue and serious efforts by the international community to pursue disarmament as a means for preventing conflict, reducing international tensions and achieving sustainable peace and security,” said UN High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu in an Oct. 6 statement.

For its part, ICAN intends to use the Nobel Prize to achieve greater treaty adherence. “We hope the Nobel Prize will help us in our campaigning to get countries to sign and ratify this vital agreement,” Tim Wright, campaign director of ICAN Australia, said at an Oct. 9 press conference.

Fifty-three states have signed the treaty since it opened for signature Sept. 20, and three—Guyana, the Holy See, and Thailand—have ratified it. An additional 47 states will need to ratify the treaty for its entry into force.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE


Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 98 times to 131 Nobel laureates—104 individuals and 27 organizations—between 1901 and 2017. This is the sixth time since 1985 that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has recognized organizations and individuals for their disarmament work. Past winners include:

  • Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons” (2013)
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Mohamed ElBaradei “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way” (2005)
  • International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Jody Williams “for their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines” (1997)
  • Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms” (1995)
  • International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War for “service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare” (1985)

Nobel committee said the group gave “new vigor” to efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.

Russia Destroys Last Chemical Weapons

November 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Russia finished destroying its chemical weapons arsenal, once the largest in the world at nearly 40,000 metric tons, and criticized the United States for its delays in doing likewise.

Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, speaks at a ceremony October 11 following the completion of the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons. The event was held at the residence of Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, the permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW. (Photo credit: OPCW)Russia was mandated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to destroy its chemical weapons by 2007, although it received several extensions, most recently to 2020. Similarly, the United States originally had a 2007 deadline, which was pushed to 2012 and then 2023. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

The CWC, which entered into force in 1997, has 192 states-parties. It is implemented by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which to date has verified the destruction of 96.3 percent of declared chemical weapons stockpiles of states-parties worldwide.

Russia’s chemical weapons destruction, completed Sept. 27, was “a momentous occasion” and a “historic milestone,” said OPCW Deputy Director-General Hamid Ali Rao at a commemorative ceremony. Russia declared an arsenal of 39,967 metric tons of chemical agents, including lewisite, mustard, phosgene, sarin, soman, and VX when it signed the CWC in 1993. It established its first on-site destruction facility in 2002, eliminating about 30 percent of its arsenal by 2009 and 85 percent by 2015.

Russia eliminated its arsenal by neutralizing the chemicals. Paul Walker, director of Green Cross International’s Environmental Security and Sustainability program, described the technique in an Oct. 19 email to Arms Control Today as “a wet-chemistry process of draining all weapons and storage tanks of chemical agents, and then mixing the agents with hot water and caustic reagents such as sodium hydroxide to destroy the deadly toxic nature of the agents.”

Russia operated a total of five chemical weapons destruction facilities. All but the facility in the town of Kizner, about 620 miles east of Moscow, had finished destruction and been closed by 2015.

Russia’s method of chemical destruction produced as a byproduct large quantities of toxic waste. Russia will treat the waste in the future at chemical destruction facilities in Kambarka, Gorny, and Shchuch’ye, according to Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, who addressed the issue in remarks at the commemorative ceremony held at Kizner. He asserted that Russia would decontaminate all chemical weapons destruction facilities.

Although Russia spent more than $5 billion to destroy its chemical weapons, according to Russian state media, it also benefited from significant international assistance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in remarks Sept. 27, credited more than 15 countries with cooperation. Vladimir Yermakov, deputy head of the foreign ministry’s Department for Weapons Control and Non-Proliferation, thanked the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, and France specifically for their financial help. Some of the U.S. funding and technical assistance was provided though the 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction program, also known as the Nunn-Lugar program.

Other States’ Destruction

With the elimination of Russia’s chemical weapons, the burden falls on the two remaining CWC member states who have yet to complete destruction of their declared arsenals: Iraq and the United States.

The size and quality of Iraq’s chemical weapons arsenal is unknown, and ongoing conflict in the Middle East presents challenges for safe removal and neutralization. Planning is reportedly underway to begin elimination.

The United States has been destroying its declared arsenal of 28,000 metric tons of chemical agents, second in size to Russia’s, since the 1990s. It has destroyed about 90 percent and is scheduled to complete destruction by 2023. The United States, which has completed destruction of five of its stockpiles, currently operates a chemical weapons destruction facility in Colorado and plans to open one in Kentucky in a few years.

The United States has destroyed its chemical weapons at rate nearly one-third of Russia’s due in part to differences between the two countries’ stockpiles, according to Walker. Russian chemical agents were stored in large tanks without explosives or propellants, but U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles include more explosive components, requiring technically difficult and time-consuming destruction.

Since completing its chemical weapons destruction, Russia has criticized the United States for lagging. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Valdai International Discussion Club on Oct. 19, noted the U.S. delay to 2023, which “does not look proper for a nation that claims to be a champion of nonproliferation and control.”

The United States considers that it is operating in compliance with CWC requirements. “We remain on track to meet our planned completion date,” Kenneth Ward, U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW, said in an Oct. 10 statement to the OPCW Executive Council.

New Phase for CWC

With Russia’s chemical weapons elimination and the revised U.S. destruction deadline six years away, experts say that the CWC will soon be moving into a “post-chemical-weapons-destruction” phase.

John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, outlined possible futures for the OPCW in a Sept. 29 blog post. “At least two visions may be realized: the first in which the OPCW is focused on chemical-weapon threats with most resources allocated accordingly, the second in which the OPCW serves as a model of international outreach and capacity building for the peaceful uses of chemistry.”

“Now the goal of a chemical-weapons-free-world is much nearer,” declared Sergio Duarte, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and a former UN high representative for disarmament affairs, in a Sept. 27 statement. He laid out several steps for the CWC regime to pursue. “It is necessary…to ensure the 100 percent universality of the Chemical Weapons Convention and to further improve safeguards against any re-emergence of chemical weapons on the basis of traditional and new technologies and against any attempts by any actors to get hold of or to use these prohibited weapons.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Moscow had world’s largest chemical-weapons arsenal.

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

The Executive Council of the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 12 selected Fernando Arias to become the organization’s next director-general. Arias is Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and previously served as Spain’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The 41-member Executive Council will recommend the Spanish ambassador to the larger OPCW conference of states-parties, which meets from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. Once formally elected at that session, Arias’ four-year term leading the OPCW, the implementing organization of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will begin on July 25, 2018.

Ambassador Fernando Arias (Photo credit: OPCW)

Arias was selected from a pool of seven candidates, including arms control notables such as Kim Won-soo, former UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, and Tibor Tóth, former executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, September 2017.) Arias has said his vision for the OPCW includes preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons, incorporating new technology, fighting terrorism, and engaging in public outreach.

The field of candidates narrowed over several months as individuals withdrew their names following poor showings in a series of informal straw polls conducted within the Executive Council. By Oct. 7, only two candidates remained: Vaidotas Verba, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the OPCW, and Arias.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) holding an annual plenary in October sought to address challenges facing the 30-year-old accord, including emerging technologies and regional proliferation. MTCR members agree to control exports of missiles and other unmanned delivery systems in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since the voluntary regime began in 1987, its membership has grown from seven to 35 countries.

The meeting, co-chaired by Iceland and Ireland, discussed intangible-technology transfers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “catch all” controls, regional proliferation, and outreach to non-MTCR countries, according to an Oct. 20 joint statement.

Members also renewed their commitment to exercising “extreme vigilance” in restricting technology transfers that could contribute to North Korea’s missile program, according to the statement. For the meeting, the United States prepared a proposal that exports of certain UAVs, now tightly restricted as being equivalent to cruise missiles, be treated more leniently, according to an Oct. 11 Reuters report. That reflects an interest by the Trump administration and UAV manufacturers in pursuing increased U.S. drone exports, Reuters said. A State Department official praised the MTCR in an Oct. 25 email to Arms Control Today but provided no details about the confidential discussions.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Russian Veto Threatens Chemical Weapons Accountability in Syria

Russia’s dangerous disregard for holding Syria accountable for using chemical weapons reached a new high Tuesday as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the independent investigative body charged with assigning blame to parties that use chemical agents in Syria. The body, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), is a United Nations – Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons partnership forged in August 2015 to bring accountability to chemical weapons attacks in Syria . Thus far, it has found the Assad government guilty...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, October 20, 2017

Trump’s “Decertification” Decision Sets Washington Up to Violate the Nuclear Deal As expected, President Donald Trump announced Oct. 13 he would not issue a certification to Congress required by U.S. law that is tied to the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While withholding certification does not, by itself, violate the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal and Trump said the United States is staying in the agreement for now, his proposed policy toward the deal sets the United States on a course to violate the accord, further isolate Washington from...

Russia needs to get tough on chemical weapons

While Russia completing the destruction of its once 40,000-metric-ton chemical weapons arsenal last week is cause for celebration, its continued denial of the Assad regime’s use of deadly chemical weapons in Syria is most certainly not. Russia, which destroyed all of its chemical weapons due to its obligation as a state-party to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), nevertheless still shields the deliberate and inexcusable violation of the CWC by another state-party, Syria. Syria joined the CWC after international outrage erupted following a brutal chemical attack in a Damascus suburb...

Fifty States Sign Nuclear Weapons Ban

October 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The day after President Donald Trump used his first address to the UN General Assembly to denounce the Iran nuclear deal and to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea, 50 countries signed a landmark treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted July 7 at the United Nations in New York, with 122 non-nuclear-weapon states voting in favor, Singapore abstaining, and the Netherlands voting against. The nuclear-armed states did not participate. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

President Michel Temer of Brazil is the first to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons when it opened for signature Sept. 20 at the United Nations. (Photo credit: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)At the ceremony for the opening for signatures on Sept. 20, UN Secretary-General António Guterres heralded the treaty as a “milestone” and “the first multilateral disarmament treaty in two decades.”

Brazil was the first to sign, and Ecuador became the 50th signatory in the evening. By the end of the day, three signatories—Guyana, the Holy See, and Thailand—had also ratified it. The treaty enters into force once 50 states sign and ratify it. Three countries prominent during the treaty negotiations—the Marshall Islands, Sweden, and Switzerland—were among those absent from the list of initial signatories. (See ACT, September 2017.)

“We welcome the treaty as a long-awaited and essential step towards [nuclear weapons] elimination, and we do so foremost with the victims of these weapons in mind—those who died following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, after later nuclear testing, and those who still suffer today,” International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer declared at the ceremony. Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, emphasized the role of nuclear weapons survivors from Japan in pressing for the treaty.

Nuclear-armed states and NATO members strongly oppose the treaty. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sept. 18 called the treaty “close to irresponsible” and said that it could undermine the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist in a letter that signing the treaty could hurt U.S.-Swedish military cooperation and U.S. military support in the event of war, according to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

NATO asserted in a Sept. 20 statement that the alliance could not support the treaty and discouraged other countries from doing so. “Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and stability,” according to the statement. “Indeed it risks doing the opposite by creating divisions and divergences at a time when a unified approach to proliferation and security threats is required more than ever.”

Still, speakers at the ceremony, including Fihn and Maurer, appealed to nuclear-armed states to join the prohibition treaty. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis urged them to “join this date with history.”

Calls to sign the treaty stretched beyond the UN complex in New York. On Sept. 20, two activists in Australia scaled the roof of a foreign ministry building in the capital, Canberra, and unfurled a banner urging their government to sign the nuclear ban treaty.

In response to division over the treaty, Guterres advocated “dialogue, bridge-building, and practical steps” to advance nuclear disarmament. Fihn, however, saw the division as a sign of progress, comparing the controversy to civil rights battles over the abolition of slavery and the women’s suffrage movement. “Ground-breaking steps forward do not start with consensus agreements,” she said.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

UN Secretary-General António Guterres herals the treaty as a "milestone," even as nuclear powers remain opposed.

The Man Who "Saved the World" Dies at 77

Stanislav Petrov, a little-known Russian whose decision averted a potential nuclear war, died in May at 77, a family friend disclosed in mid-September. 

As a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, Petrov was on duty Sept. 26, 1983, when the early-warning satellite system he was monitoring detected what appeared to be five approaching U.S. nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Petrov was faced with a critical choice that had to be made immediately: treat the warning as a false alarm or alert his superiors, who likely would launch a counterattack. Petrov went with false alarm, later explaining he reasoned that if the United States really were to start a nuclear war, it would do so with more than five missiles. He was correct. The satellites had mistaken the reflection of sun off clouds for attacking missiles.

Petrov’s decision was all the more remarkable because it occurred during a particularly tense period, shortly after the Soviet Union had shot down a civilian Korean jetliner that had passed over its territory, killing all 269 passengers and crew. Rather than being praised, Petrov was reprimanded for allegedly faulty documentation during the key moments. Soviet officials treated the incident as a secret, which it remained until well after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Petrov received international praise, earning the 2013 Dresden Peace Prize and a 2006 award from the Association of World Citizens. A 2014 documentary, “The Man Who Saved the World,” told his story.

In response to news of Petrov’s death, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted, “Times of nuclear tension call for careful restraint. You may not know Stanislav Petrov, but at height of the Cold War, he saved the world.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

The Man Who "Saved the World" Dies at 77


Subscribe to RSS - Alicia Sanders-Zakre