"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 16, 2018

The Nuclear Deal Minus the United States? President Donald Trump’s irresponsible decision to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran and withdraw from the accord was unanimously denounced by the other parties to the agreement. Washington’s P5+1 partners – the EU, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, also announced their intention to sustain the agreement and fully implement it without the United States. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also pledged to continue abiding by the terms of the deal if Iran’s interests are met. But he ordered the...

Notable Read: Shutting Down Punggye-ri: Confirming Dismantlement of North Korea’s Nuclear-Weapon Test Site

Tariq Rauf, an independent consultant for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, makes the case for a CTBTO presence at the upcoming closure of the Punggye-ri test site in a May 13 article. Kim Jong Un would “bolster his credibility and commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula were he to reach out to the CTBTO and invite the CTBTO’s technically competent and impartial verification capabilities to Punggye Ri to demonstrate transparency and fulfillment of North Korea’s announced commitment to permanently shut down its nuclear-weapon test site,” he wrote. The full article is...

Notable Read: Test and Effect

George Perkovich assesses the impact of India’s first nuclear tests, 20 years later, by reviewing then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton explaining India’s rationale. The full article is available here .

Notable Read: Make North Korea’s Nuclear Test Pause Permanent

Jon Wolfsthal, Global Zero’s Nuclear Crisis Group director, recommends steps North Korea can take to build on its pledge to shut down its Punggye-ri test site and stop further nuclear weapons tests in a May 7 article for 38 North. In particular, Wolfsthal urges North Korea to invite the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to verify the closure of its test site, to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to invite CTBTO inspectors to install nuclear test monitoring equipment in North Korea. “Using Kim’s April offer as a starting point, there is an opportunity to...

Reporting on the 2018 NPT PrepCom

NPT PrepCom Wraps Up with Chair Summary Discussion May 7, 2018 The final day of the 2018 NPT Preparatory Committee was dedicated to discussing the chair’s summary of the conference, which was released on Thursday evening. The summary is under the chair’s responsibility and thus is not a consensus document and the conference did not vote on it. Instead, the chair allocated two sessions for statements from delegations about the text. Dozens of states expressed revisions they would have liked to have seen in the text. Several states expressed disappointment in general terms that some viewpoints...

Punggye-ri Test Site Damaged, But Still Useable, Experts Contend

Two different teams of Chinese geologists reported that North Korea’s sixth nuclear test damaged the mountain over the Punggye-ri test site, which North Korea promised to shut down in May. Neither research team concluded that the mountain damage rendered the site unusable, despite recent media reports to the contrary. Although Chinese researcher Zhao Lianfeng at the Institute of Earth Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who was not part of either research team, contended that these findings signify that the test site has been “wrecked” beyond repair, the research teams did not reach...

Chemical Attack Kills Dozens in Douma

May 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

At least 42 Syrians were killed April 7 by an apparent chemical weapons attack in Douma, spurring a fresh round of international outrage amid continuing diplomatic gridlock at the UN Security Council.

The World Health Organization estimated that 500 people were injured in the attack in what had been the rebel-held city near Damascus. France released an official assessment April 14, concluding “beyond any possible doubt” that a chemical weapons attack occurred and stating that Syrian government forces were responsible for using the banned weapons.

Syrian pro-government forces sit amid destroyed buildings in Douma on the outskirts of the Damascus on April 20, during an army-organized media tour. (Photo: LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)Victims reported the distinct scent of chlorine gas, a banned choking agent. But medical responders reported that victims’ symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, were consistent with exposure to a prohibited nerve agent. The United States estimates that Syria has used various types of chemical weapons at least 50 times, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on April 13. (See ACT, April 2018.) The Syrian Archive launched a database on April 24 documenting 212 alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012.

Although Russia and Syria continued to deny chemical weapons use, calling this latest reported attack “bogus,” most of the international community was quick to condemn the attack and call for independent, international investigations.

Members of a fact-finding team, dispatched by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), arrived April 14 in Damascus, where they were initially told by Syrian and Russian authorities that they could not proceed to Douma due to security issues. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on April 19 that the delay was being used by Syrian forces to try to “remove incriminating evidence.” The OPCW team was permitted to go to one site in Douma on April 21 and another on April 25.

There is currently no group to independently determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks, after Russia blocked the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) from continuing its investigations. (See ACT, November 2017.) Before it was shut down, the JIM found the Assad regime responsible for four chemical weapons attacks and the Islamic State group guilty of two.

The UN Security Council met five times in the week following the Douma attack to discuss the incident and attempt to mandate investigations. Russia introduced three resolutions: one to create a new accountability investigative body whose findings would be subject to UN Security Council approval before release; one to support an OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria that would be restricted to pre-determined sites; and one to condemn the April 13 missile strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities conducted by the United States, United Kingdom and France.

None of Russia’s resolutions received enough votes to pass, as the United States and other powers rejected the Russian moves as ploys to avoid responsibility for its role in Syria.

Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, responded angrily on April 13 to the failure of the Russian resolutions. “We proposed adopting a brief resolution in support of the OPCW inspection mission in Douma that the United States, Britain, and France irresponsibly blocked, thereby demonstrating their lack of interest in an investigation,” he said. “The only thing they care about is overthrowing the Syrian government and, more broadly, deterring the Russian Federation.”

The United States introduced a resolution on April 10 that would have created an investigative body with a one-year mandate to determine responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria. Thirteen of the 15 UN Security Council members voted for the U.S. resolution, but it was killed by a Russian veto. “The record will not be kind to one permanent member of this council,” Haley told the Security Council on April 10 in response to the veto.

“Unfortunately, Russia has chosen the Assad regime again over the unity of this council. We have said it before that Russia will stop at nothing to shield the Assad regime, and here is our answer,” she said.

Haley cited the lack of diplomatic progress on accountability in justifying the decision to take military action. On April 13, France, the UK, and the United States launched more than 100 missiles, striking three Syrian facilities described as associated with its chemical weapons program. One was said to be a research and production facility in the Damascus area, and the other two were storage facilities west of Homs.

The three countries also circulated a resolution April 14 at the Security Council to counter chemical weapons use and address diplomatic and humanitarian concerns, which did not receive an immediate vote.

Given the council gridlock, Olof Skoog, Sweden’s permanent UN representative, suggested that UN Secretary-General António Guterres present the council with a proposal to create an investigative body to determine culpability for chemical weapons use in Syria. Forty-seven civil society organizations in an April 13 letter called on Guterres to appoint such a team.


Russian veto blocks action by the UN Security Council.

Legislatures Act on Ban Treaty

May 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

A number of legislatures are taking steps for ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while some other states, including two NATO members, are launching studies on the implications of ratifying the landmark treaty opposed by the major nuclear powers.

When the treaty opened for signature in September 2017, 50 states signed and three ratified the treaty. (See ACT, October 2017.) Since then, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela, as well as Palestine, have ratified the treaty, and eight other states have signed it.

Supporters of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) gathered February 5 in Sydney to urge the Australian and Japanese governments to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)Further, the treaty is being considered in other countries, such as Austria, where legislation supporting ratification passed the Austrian National Council on March 21 and the Austrian Federal Council on April 5, in both cases unanimously. Once Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen has signed the legislation, and the country will soon submit its instrument of ratification.

Ireland is drafting treaty-implementation legislation, which could pass before the parliamentary recess in July. Campaigners in Ireland are advocating inclusion of the treaty’s prohibition of assistance with banned activities in the implementing legislation, which could mean limiting foreign investment in companies whose products or action contribute to nuclear arsenals.

Costa Rica’s legislative assembly voted unanimously March 15 for legislation in support of ratifying the treaty. Tim Wright, treaty coordinator at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), expects Costa Rica to ratify the treaty in the coming weeks. “We expect to see more ratifications from Latin America in the near future,” Wright told Arms Control Today in an April 17 interview.

Brazilian President Michel Temer is working to have Brazil ratify the treaty by the end of the year, Christian Vargas, deputy chief of mission at the Brazilian embassy in Washington, told the Arms Control Association annual meeting April 19.

In a February speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated she would pursue “early ratification” of the prohibition treaty. But an official in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Arms Control Today in an April 18 email that no parliamentary process to do so had commenced.

The Marshall Islands, where there is strong domestic support for nuclear disarmament derived from the environmental and humanitarian impact of past U.S. nuclear testing there, has begun its legislative process on the treaty. A member of the Nitijela, the islands’ legislative body, submitted a resolution in September 2017 calling for the signature and ratification of the prohibition treaty. The resolution is currently in parliamentary committee.

The committee has held one public hearing, as of mid-March, but plans to hold more, said Bonnie Docherty, lecturer on law at Harvard Law School in an email to Arms Control Today. The committee aims to release its report to the Nitijela in August so that a vote on the resolution can take place before elections in November 2019.

Some officials are concerned about the compatibility of the treaty with the Marshall Islands’ 2003 Amended Compact of Free Association with the United States. The compact guarantees U.S. defense of the island nation in exchange for its promise not to take any action that the United States deems to be against its “responsibility for security and defense matters” in the Marshall Islands. (See ACT, September 2017.) Docherty contends that the two agreements are compatible.

In Switzerland, a member of parliament introduced a motion Dec. 12 requesting that the country sign the treaty “as soon as possible” and submit it to parliament for ratification “without delay.” A National Council vote, originally planned for March 15, had to be rescheduled and will likely occur during the summer session from May 28 to June 15, according to Maya Brehm, adviser to the group Article 36, in an email to Arms Control Today.

The Swiss government recommended Feb. 21 that the parliament reject the motion, citing a “need to clarify important technical, legal and political questions.” The government raised concerns that some treaty provisions “may not be verifiable or that the treaty could weaken existing standards, instruments or forums.” It also stated that it could not sign the treaty before completion of an interdepartmental analysis of the treaty, which is expected by July.

Other states are also launching studies into the implications of joining the treaty.

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in October 2017 that it would authorize such a review to be completed within a year. The Norwegian Parliament voted Feb. 8 to launch a similar study, although the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs opposes the accord.

“A process to achieve a ban on nuclear weapons that is not supported by any of the countries that actually have weapons of this kind will not, unfortunately, advance the disarmament agenda,” asserted Audun Halvorsen, state secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an April 18 email to Arms Control Today. The prohibition treaty “is not compatible with our NATO obligations. None of our NATO allies support the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and it is not appropriate for Norway to sign a treaty that could undermine NATO’s position as a defense alliance. However, the government is now following up parliament’s request to examine what the consequences of signing the [treaty] would be.”

The study’s conclusions will be available by the end of 2018, Halvorsen added.

Iceland, another NATO member, is also looking into the implications of joining the treaty, according to Wright. Iceland’s new prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who took office in November, is a member of the Left-Green movement and, although still a member of parliament, signed ICAN’s parliamentary pledge to work toward the treaty’s signature
and ratification.

An official in the prime minister’s office, in an email to Arms Control Today, did not comment on Jakobsdóttir’s current views on prohibition treaty ratification. The official underlined Iceland’s commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the country’s desire to see progress on nuclear weapons reductions.

“With Katrín Jakobsdóttir as prime minister, Iceland is in a strong position to join the treaty and lead other NATO countries to support real steps towards nuclear disarmament,” Ray Acheson, director of the group Reaching Critical Will, said in November 2017 after Jakobsdóttir attended a talk she and Wright gave in support of the treaty.

Advocates see support for the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty.

OPCW Confirms Novichok Use

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in an April 12 report confirmed UK conclusions about the chemical agent used in a March Members of the UK military work April 24 in Salisbury, England near the spot where Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia became critically ill several weeks earlier due to exposure to a Russian nerve agent.   (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)4 attack that left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in critical condition. The United Kingdom accused Russia of poisoning the Skripals using a rare Russian-developed nerve agent, Novichok. (See ACT, April 2018.)

Russia denied responsibility for the attack and possessing Novichok-class agents, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman characterizing the OPCW report as “a continuation of a crude provocation against the Russian Federation on the part of the UK special services.” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in an April 12 statement, extolled the independence and rigor of the OPCW analysis, which was conducted at four separate laboratories. “There can be no doubt of what was used, and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible,” he said. “Only Russia has the means, motive, and record.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

OPCW Confirms Novichok Use

UN Disarmament Conference Delayed

A UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament, originally scheduled for May 14-16, was indefinitely postponed following an April 26 UN General Assembly vote. The postponement reportedly is due to the failure to select a representative to preside over the meetings.

The 2017 UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a high-level conference in 2018 to review progress on negotiations on effective nuclear disarmament measures. All nuclear-weapon states except China voted against the resolution in the General Assembly’s First Committee. Although the United States considers the meeting to be “redundant” and a “waste of resources,” it is still continuing to evaluate whether it will attend the meeting, a State Department official told Arms Control Today in an April 17 email. The conference follows a similar 2013 meeting. That meeting was divided between those, including nuclear-weapon states, that advocated for an incremental approach to disarmament and other countries, including those in the Non-Aligned Movement, which pushed for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

UN Disarmament Conference Delayed


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