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Former IAEA Director-General
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

2017 Article XIV Conference

At the 10th Article XIV Conference aimed at moving the CTBT towards entry into force, the United States and several other “Annex II” states that need to ratify the treaty for it to enter into force remained silent . China and Egypt were the only Annex II states to speak during the conference. At the 9th conference, the United States had voiced support for the treaty. The United States is one of eight countries that must ratify the treaty before it can enter into force. The others are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. Of the eight, India, North Korea, and Pakistan...

Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Push Nuclear Ban

This op-ed originally appeared on InkStickMedia.com As President Donald Trump threatened North Korea last month with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” over 50,000 gathered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to recall that the world has in fact seen such horrific acts. Among them were survivors of the “fire and fury” that consumed the two cities 72 years earlier. The survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, called hibakusha in Japanese, were small children at the time, octogenarians today. They are a living challenge to Trump’s bombastic remarks; many have...

North Korea's Sixth Nuclear Test

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, which some experts assessed to be a test of a hydrogen bomb, on September 3. At a magnitude of 6.1 , according to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, the test was North Korea’s most powerful to date . “Unless there is a more serious, more coordinated, and sustained diplomatic strategy to reduce tensions and to halt further nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missile tests in exchange for measures that ease North Korea’s fear of military attack, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will increase, with a longer range and less...

States Hesitate to Sign Nuclear Ban Treaty

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre
September 2017

Many countries that voted in favor of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are expected to sign it when it opens for signature on Sept. 20, but several key supporters may not do so.

The intercontinental ballistic missile-class live-test target before launch, May 30, from the U.S. Army’s Reagan test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense)The treaty was supported by 122 countries when it was adopted July 7 at the United Nations. Among the parties to the negotiations, only the Netherlands voted against, and Singapore abstained. (See ACT, July/August 2017.) The large number of states supporting the landmark treaty was hailed as remarkable, particularly given the short period of negotiation.

Some states, however, may be unable or unwilling to sign the treaty in September or subsequently, due to possible treaty conflicts, anticipated pressure from nuclear-armed states opposed to the treaty, and concern with the implications of some treaty provisions. They include the Marshall Islands, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The Marshall Islands, the site of 67 U.S. nuclear test explosions and a staunch supporter of nuclear disarmament, may be unable to sign and ratify the nuclear prohibition treaty due in part to its defense agreement with the United States.

The Pacific island nation participated actively in the negotiations, but later clarified that its vote for the treaty “is not to be mistaken for the domestic process to consider joining this treaty.”

Amatlain Elizabeth Kabua, Marshall Islands permanent representative to the UN, explained after voting that her country would “carefully consider this treaty for ratification, taking into account our deep national experience regarding the use of nuclear weapons as well as implications upon the respective provision of our Compact of Free Association with the United States of America, including the defense and security provision” in Title III.

Although the Marshall Islands gained independence in 1986, the United States maintains full responsibility for the defense of the Marshall Islands under its 2003 Amended Compact of Free Association with the United States. In turn, the Marshall Islands cannot take any action that the United States decides is “incompatible with its authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” as stated in Title III of accord.

Securing approval from the United States may be challenging, given its adamant opposition to the treaty. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States asserted in a joint statement after the treaty’s adoption that it “will not enhance any country’s security” and that it would have the opposite effect. Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), has said on Twitter that the treaty has “dangerous flaws” and is “bad for international peace and security.”

Civil society groups favoring the treaty anticipate that the nuclear-armed states will lobby governments not to sign, just as they encouraged states not to participate in negotiations. “The strongest impediment to states signing the treaty is going to be pressure from the nuclear-armed states, or other nuclear-supportive allies,” Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 17 email.

Even without U.S. opposition, the Marshall Islands may still be unable to sign and ratify the treaty because of a possible conflict with its provisions. As James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted on July 6 on Twitter, the Marshall Islands leases to the United States 11 islands in the Kwajalein Atoll, where the Minuteman III and Trident D5 missiles are tested.

The Marshall Islands receives $18 million annually from the U.S. Army for use of the Kwajalein Atoll, from where the United States on May 30 launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to test its long-range ground-based interceptor. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

The new treaty prohibits states-parties from assisting any state with banned activities, which includes testing “nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” If a nuclear-capable missile were to be interpreted as a nuclear weapon or a nuclear explosive device, then the Marshall Islands would be in violation, were it to have signed and ratified the treaty. If not, Acton wrote, it would only be in compliance through a loophole “big enough to fly an ICBM through.”

Sweden and Switzerland also expressed hesitation about the treaty after voting for it. For those two countries and perhaps others, the short negotiating period may lead to a longer review period before political leaders can sign.

“Despite the complexity of the matter, and the unprecedentedly limited time at our disposal, Sweden has voted in favor of the adoption of this treaty. . . . At the same time, we recognize that there are crucial elements of this treaty that do not meet what my delegation was aiming for,” Eva Walder, Swedish ambassador for disarmament, said in a statement after the vote.

There were just more than four weeks of negotiations before the treaty’s adoption. The president of the negotiating conference, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, released the third and penultimate draft of the treaty four days before its anticipated adoption, which diplomats sent back to their capitals for comments. Yet, Whyte Gómez did not accept any substantive changes to that draft, frustrating many diplomats who had expected to resolve their governments’ concerns.

In an Aug. 14 email to Arms Control Today, Walder stated that Swedish political leaders have not decided whether they will sign the treaty in September.

Switzerland also voted for the treaty, but explained it would not sign it on Sept. 20 in order to conduct a comprehensive review of the text. “Switzerland is committed to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, but also sees risks that this treaty may weaken existing norms and agreements and create parallel processes and structures which may further contribute to polarization rather than reduce it,” Sabrina Dallafior, Swiss permanent representative to the CD, said after the vote.

Sweden and Switzerland had advocated for the treaty to require all states to agree to negotiate an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency in addition to a comprehensive safeguards agreement required by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Instead, the ban treaty calls for all states that have never possessed nuclear weapons to maintain their current level of safeguards, bringing into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement if they have not already done so.

“Switzerland therefore does not plan to sign the treaty” on Sept. 20, when it will open for signature, said Michael Siegrist, a legal officer for the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs in an Aug. 14 email to Arms Control Today. “This decision is without prejudice to a later decision following the assessment.”

States Hesitate to Sign Nuclear Ban Treaty

Seven Vie for OPCW Director-General

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre
September 2017

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council plans by October to pick from among seven candidates to succeed Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü, who steps down in July.

Ahmet Üzümcü (R), director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibiton of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), holds the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize at the Oslo City Hall on December 10, 2013. The Nobel was awarded to the OPCW for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons. (Photo credit: Daniel Sannum Lauten/AFP/Getty Images)The OPCW, founded in 1997 to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), faces formidable challenges in the coming years, including the recurring use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Several former representatives to the OPCW are vying for the job, as well as two well-known figures in the arms control field: Tibor Tóth, former executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, and Kim Won-soo, former UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs. 

Selection Process

At the OPCW Executive Council meeting in July, each nominee gave a 10-minute presentation on priorities, challenges, and the management of the secretariat, followed by questions from the five regional groups.

Sheikh Mohammed Belal of Bangladesh, the council chairman overseeing the process, plans to use “consultations, ‘confessional meetings,’ and, when appropriate, straw polls” to narrow the field of candidates before the next council meeting on Oct. 10–13, according to an Aug. 17 email to Arms Control Today. The council plans to conduct the first straw poll on Sept. 13.

If multiple candidates remain in the race by the October meeting, the council will vote. Subsequently, the full OPCW conference of states-parties, which meets Nov. 27–Dec. 1, must approve the council’s recommendation, which it has always done.

The first candidate is Abdouraman Bary, a chemistry professor from Burkino Faso currently serving as the Waste Regional Coordinator for the Africa Region at the UN Environment Programme. He previously headed Burkina Faso’s CWC National Authority. He is the only candidate with scientific and practical expertise although he lacks many of the other candidates’ diplomatic experience.

The second candidate is Saywan Sabir Barzani, an Iraqi diplomat currently serving as Iraq’s permanent representative to the OPCW and ambassador to the Netherlands. Previously, Barzani was Iraq’s permanent representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The third candidate is Fernando Arias Gonzalez, currently Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and previously Spain’s permanent UN representative.

Candidate Tóth of Hungary was executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) for eight years. He also served as Hungary’s permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament and the CTBTO and was involved in the negotiation of the CWC. He chaired an ad-hoc group that tried to add a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention.

The fifth candidate is Jesper Vahr, a Danish diplomat currently serving as ambassador to Israel who has served as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan and director of the private office of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The sixth candidate is Vaidotas Verba, currently the project coordinator in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and previously Lithuania’s permanent representative to the OPCW.

The final candidate is Kim, who just finished a two-year term in December 2016 as UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs. In this role, he oversaw the work of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in Syria. 

Üzümcü’s Legacy

During Üzümcü’s two terms as director-general, he implemented institutional reforms and guided the organization through unprecedented challenges.

Üzümcü previously served as Turkey’s representative to NATO and held several posts within the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When a candidate for OPCW director-general in 2009, Üzümcü stressed the importance of the OPCW’s multilateralism.

Under Üzümcü’s leadership, the OPCW’s work became more publicly accessible when it developed a larger online presence and a publicity strategy. “Üzümcü deserves much credit for supporting a much more open, transparent, and inclusive process for the CWC and states-parties, even against the reluctance of several states-parties,” Paul Walker, director of Green Cross International’s environmental security and sustainability program, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 16 email.

The organization’s public image grew after becoming a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

During Üzümcü’s tenure, the OPCW met daunting challenges, including the use of chemical weapons by a state-party, Syria, for the first time in the organization’s history and the growing instances of chemical weapons use by nonstate actors. Üzümcü established the JIM and the Declaration Assessment Team to investigate Syria’s chemical weapons declaration and alleged instances of use.

The organization completed the removal of chemical weapons from Libya during 2012–2016 and began to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons in 2013, the first time the OPCW undertook a demilitarization operation in an active war zone.

“Never in the history of our organization have we been called on to verify a destruction program within such short time frames and in an ongoing conflict,” Üzümcü said of his organization’s work in Syria when receiving the Nobel prize. 

Challenges Ahead

The next director-general will also have a challenging portfolio, which includes addressing current chemical weapons use in Syria and shifting future institutional priorities as the organization nears completion of most states’ chemical weapons stockpiles destruction.

“Ensuring institutional impartiality and credibility on the Syria file has been (and continues to be) the biggest challenge” of the current director-general, John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 15 email.

In addition, the next director-general will be tasked with working to include the four countries not yet party to the treaty—Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan—while strengthening current states-parties’ national implementation.

Still, as the OPCW celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, 95 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed. Looking ahead, the new OPCW leader will need to shift the organization’s priorities from chemical weapons destruction to preventing chemical weapons acquisition.

“[T]he next director-general would need to make the OPCW, with the support of the states-parties, a vanguard against the threat of the re-emergence of chemical weapons and the use of chemical weapons by ‘rouge’ states and non-state actors,” Belal said in an Aug. 17 email to Arms Control Today.

Seven Vie for OPCW Director-General

Court Dismisses Marshall Island Case

U.S. courts cannot find the United States in breach of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 3–0 decision dismissing a case filed by the Marshall Islands. The Pacific island country filed suit in 2014, alleging that the United States failed to fulfill obligations under Article VI of the NPT to pursue negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament. The appeals court, upholding the federal district court’s original February 2015 dismissal, found that the NPT is not “judicially enforceable.” Judge Margaret McKeown wrote, “Asking the federal court to order the United States to negotiate in ‘good faith’ on ‘effective measures’ for nuclear disarmament puts the judiciary in the role of nanny to the executive.”

Laurie Ashton, lead lawyer for the Marshall Islands, called the decision “very disappointing,” arguing that “there has never been a more critical time” to enforce the treaty. The United States conducted 67 nuclear test explosions in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958. The Marshall Islands filed similar cases against the nuclear-armed states at the International Court of Justice, all of which were dismissed last fall on procedural grounds. (See ACT, November 2016.)—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Court Dismisses Marshall Island Case

China Advances Ballistic Missile Defense

China is advancing a new ballistic missile interceptor, the HQ-19, according to an annual U.S. Defense Department report, in a development that may indicate progress toward a deployed missile defense system. As of May 2016, the missile was still undergoing testing to intercept ballistic missiles having a range of 3,000 kilometers. An operational HQ-19 interceptor would be armed with a kinetic kill vehicle and be able to target ballistic missiles and satellites in lower-earth orbit. The HQ-19 is a significantly updated variant of the HQ-9, a long-range surface-to-air missile that has a limited capacity to hit short-range ballistic missiles up to 500 kilometers in range.

China has successfully intercepted ballistic missiles with ground-based interceptors in tests in 2010 and 2013, but experts remain uncertain whether China intends to deploy a missile defense system. If so, China would likely deploy a limited number of point-based missile interceptors to protect key strategic targets, such as its intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to 2013 blog post by Li Bin, senior fellow at the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE


China Advances Ballistic Missile Defense

OPCW-UN Investigating Team Visits Syria

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) visited Syria in late August as part of its ongoing investigation to determine the group responsible for the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. A Syrian man prays July 12 at a cemetery in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in Idlib province, 100 days after the alleged sarin nerve-gas attack by Syrian government forces that was reported to have killed more than 90 people, including women and children. (Photo credit: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. intelligence agencies allege that Syrian government forces carried out the attack, while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called the incident a “fabrication” shortly after it occurred and has since denied responsibility. “We will offer [the JIM] all facilitations needed for the investigation and to help it arrive to the place where the alleged chemical attack took place,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted as saying in an Aug. 12 report in The Washington Post.

An OPCW fact-finding mission confirmed the Khan Sheikhoun attack and identified the weapon used as sarin gas in a June 29 report, but it did not assign blame, which is the JIM’s task. German media reported an increase in chemical weapons attacks in Syria in July after a brief respite in May and June. Local groups documented at least seven chemical weapons attacks in and around Damascus in July.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

OPCW-UN Investigating Team Visits Syria

Anti-Nuclear Campaigner Tony de Brum Dies

Tony de Brum, the three-time foreign minister of the Marshall Islands and lifelong advocate for nuclear disarmament, died Aug. 22 at his home in Majuro at age 72.

Tony de Brum in 2013 (Photo credit: Giff Johnson/AFP/Getty Images)At age nine, while fishing with his father, he witnessed the massive 1954 “Castle Bravo” test explosion of a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll, which unleashed 1,000 times more destructive force than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The United States conducted 67 nuclear test explosions over the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958.

“I have seen with my very own eyes nuclear devastation and know, with conviction, that nuclear weapons must never again be visited upon humanity,” de Brum said while accepting the 2015 Right Livelihood Award. De Brum and the Marshall Islands also were recognized with the 2016 Arms Control Person(s) of the Year Award, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

“The Marshall Islands lost a national hero today,” Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine said in an Aug. 22 statement citing de Brum’s contributions to the nation’s independence, nuclear disarmament, and climate justice.

Under de Brum’s leadership in 2014, the Marshall Islands launched two legal cases to push nuclear-weapon states to fulfill legal obligations under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament, one within U.S. courts and another at the International Court of Justice.

Although both courts declined on technical grounds to rule on the cases, John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and a member of the Marshall Islands legal team, said at the Arms Control Association annual meeting June 2 that “simply bringing the cases raised to world attention the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill the obligation to negotiate and reach a global elimination of nuclear weapons.”

De Brum also played a key role in the Paris climate negotiations, forging a coalition of about 100 diverse nations, the “high-ambition coalition,” which successfully pushed for a global warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Anti-Nuclear Campaigner Tony de Brum Dies


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