Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Two Major Milestones

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

One week marked two major milestones for humanitarian disarmament. First, states finalized a new political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Geneva. Then, Austria convened the First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition on of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which adopted its own declaration along with an action plan for implementation. Although there are concerns about the continued use or threatened use of these two types of weapons, especially with increased geopolitical instability, the widespread support for both instruments builds hope for improved humanitarian outcomes.

President Alexander Kmentt presides over the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Alexander Papis/ICAN, 2022.

In case you missed it:

  • A second round of informational consultations of the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts (CCW GGE) on lethal autonomous weapon systems took place virtually on June 1 and 3. The discussions saw debate over whether non-binding principles were sufficient or whether binding rules are needed; how to define human control and ethical principles, and in turn acceptable and non-acceptable weapons; and how responsibility and accountability should apply to the use and development of autonomous weapon systems. More detailed reports about the consultations can be found on the Stop Killer Robots website or in Reaching Critical Will’s CCW Report.
  • On June 13, Guatemala ratified the TPNW, becoming the 62nd state party to the treaty. Three more countries—Cabo Verde, Grenada, and Timor-Leste—ratified on June 20, on the eve of the treaty’s 1MSP.
  • On June 14, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) published its third annual report on global nuclear weapons spending, Squandered: 2021 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending. The report documents an increase in nuclear weapons spending by nine nuclear-armed states from US$76 billion in 2020 to US$82.4 billion in 2021.
  • The text of the “Political Declaration on the Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas” was finalized in Geneva on June 17. The text, agreed to without changes, received overwhelming support from states, civil society, and international organizations. The declaration recognizes the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It commits states to improving and implementing national policies and practices regarding the use of such weapons, assisting victims, collecting and sharing data, and holding follow-up meetings. It further commits them to “restricting or refraining from” the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Although some expressed views that the text could have been stronger, most agreed that the declaration would serve as a good starting point to enhance civilian protection, and a large number pledged to sign. Further information about the political declaration and its adoption can be found on the websites of International Network on Explosive Weapons and Reaching Critical Will.
  • ICAN kicked off Nuclear Ban Week, Vienna, with its Nuclear Ban Forum from June 18-19. Hundreds of campaigners from around the world joined the inspiring event, which featured panels and speakers from affected communities, civil society, government, international organizations, and more.
  • Austria hosted the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on June 20 to set the stage for the TPNW’s 1MSP. Building on the 2013-2014 conferences of the Humanitarian Initiative, it presented new information on the human, environmental, and other costs of nuclear weapons. A chair’s summary highlighted the main conclusions. 
  • The First Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW took place in Vienna from June 21-23. At the end of the meeting, states parties adopted the Vienna Declaration and Vienna Action Plan, which both reaffirm the states parties’ commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. The declaration expresses alarm and concern at recent rhetoric containing threats to use nuclear weapons and the global instability and conflict that increases the risk of their use. The Action Plan outlines actions to be taken to achieve universalization; the elimination of nuclear weapons; and implement the positive obligations of victim assistance and environmental remediation. More information about the meeting can be found on the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons website or in Reaching Critical Will’s Nuclear Ban Daily.

The CCW GGE’s third informal, virtual intersessional discussion on lethal autonomous weapon systems will be held from June 27-28. The GGE will then convene its second formal session of 2022 from July 25-29. The Tenth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is scheduled for August 1-26 in New York.

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