Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Calls to Action as the Doomsday Clock Moves toward Midnight

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative 

The war in Ukraine has continued to play a role in disarmament discussions, pushing the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight and generating reports of apparent violations of the Mine Ban Treaty and of environmental damage. The humanitarian disarmament community has responded to these and other challenges, however, and called for further action. For example, states, civil society groups, and international organizations recently convened to strategize about effective universalization and implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and the Arms Trade Treaty. Last month also saw new analyses of the dangers of and policies related to autonomous weapons systems. 

Five individuals stand next to a sign that looks like the upper left quadrant of a clock. Text on the sign says "it is 9- seconds to midnight" and the hands on the clock correspond to that time. The five individuals are wearing business attire, with serious looks on their faces, and standing in front of a red Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists banner.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reveals 2023 Doomsday Clock. Credit: Jamie Christiani | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2023.

In case you missed it: 

  • Djibouti became the 92nd signatory to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on January 9. 
  • On January 18, Action on Armed Violence published data recording 9,713 civilian casualties of Russian use of explosive weapons on Ukrainian territory.
  • On January 24, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock forward to 90 seconds to midnight in large part because of the growing risks of the use of nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine. The Doomsday Clock, set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, is a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to global catastrophe. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) notes that the setting of the Doomsday Clock should be a call to action to eliminate nuclear weapons.
  • ICAN announced on January 25 that it is coordinating a civil society network, the “G7 Civil Society Coalition on G7 Summit 2023,” to influence the G7’s outcomes and commitments toward achieving nuclear disarmament. The G7, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the European Union, will meet in Hiroshima, Japan, in May. 
  • On January 25, the United States Department of Defense announced an update to Directive 3000.09, Autonomy in Weapon Systems. According to an analysis by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the 2023 directive, like its 2012 predecessor, does not adequately address the threats posed by autonomous weapons systems. The directive retains significant loopholes from the 2012 version, such as allowing waivers to the review process required before development and fielding of the systems and failing to curb proliferation. It also includes problematic revisions, including removing references to “control” of the system, instead focusing on “appropriate levels of human judgment” over the use of force, an undefined concept. 
  • South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, ICAN, and the International Committee of the Red Cross co-hosted the African Regional Seminar on the Universalization of the TPNW from January 30-31. The seminar considered the need for and status of universalization of the treaty from a regional perspective. Participants shared lessons learned about advancing the treaty in their countries, efforts their governments have made to implement the treaty, and ideas for how African countries could contribute to the success of the Second Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW. 
  • On January 31, Human Rights Watch reported apparent use by Ukraine of rocket-fired antipersonnel landmines in and around the city of Izium while Russian forces occupied the area. The government of Ukraine responded in a statement that it was committed to investigate the allegations in report. The president of the Mine Ban Treaty, German Ambassador H.E. Thomas Göbel, stated that he would follow treaty procedure and engage with Ukraine to address these allegations of non-compliance with the treaty by a state party. HRW had previously published reports documenting Russia’s use of antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine.
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) organized a regional workshop from January 30-February 2 for the establishment of harmonized national control lists for the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty in ECOWAS member states. 
  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, on January 25, published a backgrounder on the environmental impacts of the Russian war on Ukraine. The backgrounder describes both the environmental damage caused by the war and the efforts to collect data and determine ways of obtaining redress. More detail about the environmental consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can be found in the briefing series jointly published by the Conflict and Environment Observatory and Zoï Environment Network, the fifth installment of which was published on February 7.
  • The Arms Control Association published a new report, Assessing the Dangers: Emerging Military Technologies and Nuclear (In)Stability, on February 7. The report examines four emerging technologies—autonomous weapons systems, hypersonic weapons, cyberattacks including attacks on unclear common, control, and communication systems, and automated battlefield decision-making—and proposes a strategy for preventing unintended escalation from the use of these technologies. 

The First Preparatory Meeting for the Conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty is taking place from February 14-17 in Geneva. The Stop Killer Robots campaign is holding a global campaigners meeting, the Digital Dehumanization Conference, in San José, Costa Rica, from February 20-22. That will be followed, on February 23-24, also in San José, by the Regional Conference on the Social and Humanitarian Impact of Autonomous Weapons, organized by the Costa Rican government. The first session of the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems will take place in Geneva from March 6-10.

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