Policy Newsletter #19 - November 2023

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ICAN - International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Preparations underway for TPNW Second Meeting of States Parties

Ahead of the upcoming Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) Second Meeting of States Parties, which will take place from 27 November - 1 December in New York, states parties have held consultations and submitted draft reports of their work to be discussed at the meeting. The TPNW is the only international treaty where states are implementing their commitments on nuclear disarmament, with the active engagement of civil society. The progress towards actions agreed to in the Vienna Action Plan adopted at the First Meeting of States Parties in June 2022 is likely to be a key theme of discussions.

States have reported on their work on disarmament verification, victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance, universalisation, gender and complementarity of the TPNW with other elements of the disarmament and nonproliferation regime. In addition, the TPNW Scientific Advisory Group has submitted a report on its work. Summaries of all the TPNW working groups and their meetings are available on this ICAN website.

The agenda for the week-long conference will include a discussion on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, followed by a general debate and then additional thematic debates on different areas of Treaty implementation including: Article 2; Article 12; Article 4; Articles 6 and 7; Article 5; scientific advice; intersessional structure; complementarity of the TPNW with other instruments; and gender. A calendar of state-sponsored side events is available here, and a calendar of all civil society events, inside and outside of the UN, is available here. Sign up here for relevant information for civil society attending the meeting.

Russia revokes its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 

On 25 October, Russia’s State Duma passed a bill revoking its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a move that was justified by Vladimir Putin as “mirroring” the United States’ status as a signatory but not a ratifier. The bill was officially signed into law by President Putin on 2 November. Under international law, the revocation of Russia’s ratification carries little weight; under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, signatories of a treaty are still required to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty. However, the move is another escalatory act by Russia, continuing the pattern of nuclear sabre-rattling that has made the international climate significantly more dangerous.

Compounding this development, recent satellite images have shown increased activity around nuclear test sites in the United States, Russia, and China, including expansions in new roads and storage facilities around these test sites. No evidence exists suggesting that these states are imminently planning a nuclear test. Nonetheless, these expansions create the conditions for a race to modernise nuclear testing sites at a time when nuclear-armed states already expend significant financial resources in modernizing their nuclear arsenals.

To date, 187 states have signed and 178 states have ratified the CTBT. The treaty has yet to enter into force, as this requires the ratification of eight states that have thus far failed to do so: China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States. Russia’s revocation of its ratification makes it the ninth state holding up the treaty. The TPNW is the only legally binding international treaty in force that categorically bans nuclear testing. Despite not having entered into force, the CTBT creates a strong international norm against nuclear testing. Since the 1990s, no state has conducted nuclear weapons tests other than North Korea.

UN First Committee passes victim assistance and environmental remediation resolution

Photo Credit: ICAN

On 27 October at the UN General Assembly First Committee, UN member states overwhelmingly passed a new resolution: “Addressing the legacy of nuclear weapons: providing victim assistance and environmental remediation to Member States affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons.” Only four states voted against the resolution: France, North Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom, while 171 countries voted in favour and 6 abstained.

The TPNW is the only international framework through which states are committed to provide victim assistance and environmental remediation to people and places harmed by nuclear weapons use and testing (Articles 6 and 7). This new resolution represents a successful effort by the TPNW Article 6 and 7 working group co-chairs, Kazakhstan and Kiribati to gain wider recognition and cooperation in their important work. The resolution encourages all states to cooperate to provide victim assistance and environmental remediation, including for those in a position to do so through technical and financial assistance. It also urges states that have used or tested nuclear weapons to share technical and scientific information on their consequences with affected states, and acknowledges the special responsibility of these states to address harm, as addressed in TPNW Article 7(6).

The First Committee passed a number of other resolutions. Resolution L.23, emphasising the importance of centring the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in disarmament discussions, passed with 136 votes in favour and Resolution L.24, calling upon all States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the TPNW at the earliest possible date, passed with 124 votes in favour.

Throughout the First Committee, over 50 state and civil society delegations expressed support for the TPNW, with many praising the success of the First Meeting of States Parties in June 2022, the initiatives in the Vienna Declaration and Action Plan, and expressing high hopes for the Second Meeting of States Parties in November 2023. ICAN submitted a statement declaring that, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the risk of nuclear weapons use remains unacceptably high and continues to increase, including due to nuclear-armed states’ nuclear upgrades and the role of emerging technologies. The statement also asserts that any use of nuclear weapons would have devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences, making these weapons fundamentally incompatible with international humanitarian and international human rights law.

NATO and Russia conduct annual nuclear weapons exercises

Countries in nuclear alliances practised the use of nuclear weapons in annual exercises, and re-emphasised the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines. In October, both NATO and Russia proceeded with their respective annual exercises to demonstrate their readiness to use nuclear weapons. NATO’s Steadfast Noon exercise the week of 16 October was hosted by Belgium and involved 14 countries and over 60 aircraft practising to use nuclear weapons over Italy and Croatia. Russia’s annual Grom exercise, starting on 26 October included the launch of nuclear-capable missiles.

Meanwhile, there are concerning moves to increase nuclear arsenals in nuclear-armed countries. The final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, released in October, calls for expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The 12 member commission which authored the report notably includes at least seven which have either been employed by think tanks that accept money from the nuclear weapons industry, or by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for developing and building nuclear warheads. The Department of Defense also released a report in October claiming that China now has more than 500 operational nuclear warheads. The United States and Russia, the two largest nuclear-armed states, are estimated to have 5,244 and 5,889 nuclear warheads respectively.

Regional seminar in Kazakhstan marks International Day Against Nuclear Tests

Photo Credit: Soka Gakkai International

On 29 August, the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, diplomats, the expert community, and humanitarians from Central Asia and beyond met in Astana, Kazakhstan for a regional conference on the "Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia.” The conference included delegates from the five Member States of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Semipalatinsk Treaty), namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

According to the Chair’s summary, the conference “highlighted the complementarity of the TPNW with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Treaty of Semipalatinsk, and other nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation instruments,” and noted Kazakhstan’s co-leadership in advancing work through the TPNW to provide victim assistance and environmental remediation to people and places harmed by nuclear use and testing.

The day was also commemorated at the annual UN high-level ceremony in New York, with many delegations expressing support for the TPNW and its contribution to disarmament and nuclear justice.

Melissa Parke appointed new ICAN Executive Director

On 1 September, Hon. Melissa Parke, a former United Nations legal expert and Australian government minister, became ICAN’s new Executive Director. Parke has over two decades of experience in the fields of international development, human rights, law, and politics, and has served as an ICAN Australia ambassador, in which capacity she has championed the TPNW since 2017.

Melissa Parke is a former Minister for International Development and former Member of Parliament for the Labor Party for Fremantle (2007 to 2016). As a federal parliamentarian in Australia, she regularly voiced support for nuclear disarmament, including as a member of a cross-party parliamentary group dedicated to the cause, and as Australian chair of Parliamentarians for Global Action and founding chair of the Australia–United Nations parliamentary group. In 2013, she received the Accountability Round Table award for parliamentary integrity, presented by a former chief justice of the High Court of Australia.

Ms Parke's work on nuclear issues began in the 1990s when she joined a campaign to oppose the establishment of a global nuclear waste dump in her home state of Western Australia (one of the two Australian states where the United Kingdom tested nuclear weapons in the 1950s). Around that time, she was elected to represent WA on the national council of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Her former constituency of Fremantle is a self-declared "nuclear-free zone" and active member of the Hiroshima-based Mayors for Peace network.

New Resources

"Moving Away From Mass Destruction" ICAN and Pax, July 2023

"Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons - Second Meeting of States Parties," UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, November 2023

"2nd Meeting of States Parties Events Calendar," ICAN, November 2023 

Critical Nuclear Weapons Scholarship Grantees, ICAN, 2022-2023

"Fallout from U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests in New Mexico and Nevada (1945-1962)," Sebastien Philippe, Susan Alzner, Gilbert Compo, Mason Grimshaw, Megan Smith, July 2023

*Please note the last newsletter sent in June contained an error in the number of signatories in the top banner and should have read 93 signatories and 68 states parties.