Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Heavy Focus on Nuclear Weapons Despite Postponement of NPT Review Conference

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Although the United Nations postponed the highly anticipated Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference 2020, the past month saw a significant amount of activity focused on nuclear weapons. Work in other areas also continued, with report releases, virtual meetings, and even a new treaty ratification. In case you missed it:

Credit: Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 2020
  • The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) released a preliminary investigative report on April 8, concluding that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Republic used chemical weapons on at least three separate occasions in March 2017. Given the IIT’s limited mandate, the report does not make any legal conclusions about Syria’s compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the stockpiling, production, and use of chemical weapons.
  • On April 9 and April 16, the Forum on Arms Trade hosted virtual town halls with civil society experts to discuss how COVID-19 has affected humanitarian disarmament work and how the community should respond. In a report on the first town hall, Disarmament Dialogue examined some of the threats and opportunities presented by the pandemic.    
  • Civil society actors have increased pressure on governments and financial institutions to ban and divest from nuclear weapons, while proposing alternative ways in which current nuclear funds could be spent.
    • The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) published a new briefing paper on April 16, highlighting the urgency of divestment from nuclear weapons and offering steps individuals, cities, and financial institutions can take to achieve that end.
    • On April 24, Don’t Bank on the Bomb invited financial institutions to join them on August 6 in commemorating the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
    • The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament published an infographic on April 27, akin to the infographics published by ICAN in March, showing the public health resources that could be paid for with the money the UK spends on nuclear warheads.
    • NuclearBan.US hosted a webinar on April 29 that addressed how the funding for the US nuclear program could be redirected towards addressing the global climate crisis. The webinar built on the organization’s 2019 report Warheads to Windmills.
    • In a Kyodo News survey of Japanese financial institutions, released on May 3, sixteen banks reported that the increasingly negative public perceptions of nuclear weapons prompted them to adopt policies “refrain[ing] from investing in and extending loans to companies” that manufacture nuclear weapons or delivery missiles.  
  • Although the NPT Review Conference 2020 was postponed, humanitarian disarmament organizations have organized virtual events to continue discussions about the NPT and nuclear weapons in general. These events have included a series of government briefings for civil society, organized by Reaching Critical Will, and an Online NPT Review Conference 2020, organized by Peace Boat, in which over 600 participants from Japan and beyond reviewed the NPT, compared it to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and explored ideas for nuclear abolition.
  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published the annual update to its Military Expenditure Database on April 27, which found that global military expenditure in 2019 rose to US$1.917 trillion. On May 11, ICAN published a similar report concluding that global spending on nuclear weapons totaled US$72.9 billion in 2019.
  • Namibia ratified the Arms Trade Treaty on April 28, becoming the ATT’s 106th state party. 
  • On May 6, more than 100 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the secretary of defense expressing their opposition to the reversal of the US policy limiting the use of antipersonnel landmines. The letter also requested information regarding the justification for this policy move.
  • The chair of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapons systems, a forum of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, held a “fireplace chat” with states, civil society, and international organizations on May 8. Although no decisions were made, it seems likely that the June and August GGE sessions will be postponed, and the chair agreed to investigate the possibility of a September meeting.

While digital diplomacy will continue in the near future, as countries start to reopen, some disarmament events may held in person or in a hybrid form (part in-person, part remote). More resources on humanitarian disarmament and COVID-19 can be found on this resources page. Please share your examples of creative advocacy and diplomacy work and events by sending an email to