Latest News

Reaching Critical Will Editorial: It's Time

24 October 2016

This week, delegations to the UN General Assembly could help shift the course of history. 

Photo credit: Peace Boat.

This sounds dramatic, especially for First Committee. While it always presents a good opportunity for progress, First Committee can sometimes seem like a recycling facility for statements and resolutions. Some of the proposals under discussion have been on the books for decades, while outside the conference rooms levels of armaments rise and bombs continue to fall. This year is different. This year we have L.41.

L.41 is the document number for a resolution that will establish multilateral negotiations for a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. We have never had such a resolution. We have never had anything close.

None of the nuclear-armed states support this resolution. They are legally obligated to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and have been for 46 years, since the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force. Instead, however, they are investing billions of dollars into nuclear weapon modernisation.

Some of their allies that support the retention of nuclear weapons—because they believe that the ability to threaten the rest of the world with massive nuclear violence provides them with security—are torn. Many of their parliaments and publics are demanding they support a ban on nuclear weapons, but their state apparatus are resistant.

These governments are quite upset about L.41. Some of them warn about the unspeakable horrors that banning nuclear weapons will bring to the world—destroying the NPT and the nuclear non-proliferation regime; furthering regional and international tensions; etc. Underpinning this line of arguments is the assertion that a nuclear weapon ban treaty will not have any positive effect whatsoever on nuclear disarmament whilst angering the nuclear-armed states so greatly that they might become even more intransigent about retaining nuclear weapons and make even fewer commitments to disarmament and that they might even use nuclear weapons or start a nuclear war. We have been treated to various formulations of these overwrought warnings for more than two years.

Others argue that the ban treaty is not a “quick fix” for nuclear disarmament and does not “guarantee” the elimination of nuclear weapons—which is a strange argument coming from countries that support incremental measures on nuclear disarmament, or that have previously championed prohibitions on other weapon systems such as landmines, cluster munitions, chemical weapons, and biological weapons.


The reality is that the problem with the ban treaty for these countries is that it is incompatible with the possession of nuclear weapons. A legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons will stigmatise these weapons. It will draw a clear line around them for what they are—instruments of violent death and irredeemable destruction. It will help make unconscionable the concept of these weapons providing security or preventing conflict or deterring attack. It will create legal, political, and economic obligations on the basis of this stigma. It will change the way nuclear weapons are treated by people, corporations, banks, governments, and others. It will undercut the power, privilege, and profit that the few seek to derive from wielding weapons of mass destruction.

It is this that upsets those states that want nuclear weapons. It is this that has driven some of the extreme rhetoric against the ban treaty and its proponents. It should not, of course, be this way. The NPT does not confer legitimacy on their possession of nuclear weapons, or on the inclusion of nuclear weapons in security doctrines. On the contrary, the NPT seeks to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons and committed those that already had them to disarm. The idea that a small group of states would find it shocking and unacceptable that rest of the international community would press them to comply with their legal obligations is rather bewildering.

Not all of the rhetoric is aggressive. Some have tried to strike a more reasonable tone. “We and many others are frustrated by the pace of nuclear disarmament,” assured the delegation of Canada last week. But Canada, like many others, still finds fault not with the retention of nuclear weapons but with those who challenge this state of affairs. “Unfortunately, this frustration has spawned diverging approaches which threaten to overshadow our accomplishments, rather than renew our common commitment to the universal goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It also risks undermining the foundation of trust and compromise essential for further action.”

ICAN working group. Photo credit: ICAN International.
Members of ICAN and Reaching Critical Will. Photo credit: ICAN International.

Why? How? These are questions that those opposed to banning nuclear weapons have not answered. Who is undermining trust and compromise? When the majority of states in the world, parties to and in full compliance with the NPT, have worked within that system for 46 years, trying in vein to encourage and facilitate the nuclear-armed states to proceed with multilateral nuclear disarmament as mandated by that Treaty, whose trust has been undermined? Who has made compromises time after time, only to see their good faith efforts trampled upon by those that say the “conditions are not ripe” to follow through on their legally binding obligations?

Divisions have been created by those states that possess nuclear weapons and those that rely on them in their security doctrines. They created these divisions decades ago by developing, testing, using, and stockpiling nuclear weapons. They have made agreements and broken them. They insist that they need a different “international security environment” before they can commence real work on disarmament—and in the meantime, they will keep building up their arsenals, as if preparing for the use of nuclear weapons will make it less likely.

It has been alarming to hear the way nuclear-armed and nuclear-supportive states defend these weapons as essential to their security. This is an incitement to proliferation, as well as being morally, legally, economically, and politically unjust. As Trinidad and Tobago argued, “There should be no prestige attached to the ability to threaten the life of the planet and every living thing on it. Any such prestige can only beget proliferation and runs counter to the intention of the NPT.”

It is also alarming to hear some of the nuclear-armed states denigrate those that support a ban treaty, locating the problem in states or others that bring attention to violations of law rather than in those that have violated the law. This reflects a broader societal tendency from the “powerful” to try to stop those who act to hold them accountable for committing or threatening violence or injustice. This imbalance of power, rooted in our established systems of patriarchy and militarism, is used relentlessly and in various ways to try to silence those that believe a different kind of world is possible.

This can’t be allowed to succeed. “There comes a time when choices have to be made and this is one of those times,” said Ireland in its remarks on the ban treaty last week. “Given the clear risks associated with the continued existence of nuclear weapons, this is now a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility. Governance requires accountability and governance requires leadership.”

This week (probably), on Thursday afternoon (subject to change), in New York at the United Nations (definitely), all governments in the world have the chance to be responsible, to be accountable, and to be a leader. Every government needs to attend the most historic vote First Committee has ever seen, and we hope that courage and justice prevail when it comes time to take action on L.41. Collectively, as humans, we need a better story than the one we’re writing now. This could be a turning point.

first-committee-monitorThis editorial was originally published in ‘First Committee Monitor No. 4′, elaborated by WILPF Disarmament programme (Reaching Critical Will)’s director, Ray Acheson. 

The First Committee Monitor is a collaborative NGO effort undertaken to make the work of the First Committee more transparent and accessible.

Subscribe now to the First Committee Monitor!


Share the post

Your donation isn’t just a financial transaction; it’s a step toward a more compassionate and equitable world. With your support, we’re poised to achieve lasting change that echoes through generations. Thank you!

Thank you!

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Mauris facilisis luctus rhoncus. Praesent eget tellus sit amet enim consectetur condimentum et vel ante. Nulla facilisi. Suspendisse et nunc sem. Vivamus ullamcorper vestibulum neque, a interdum nisl accumsan ac. Cras ut condimentum turpis. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia curae; Curabitur efficitur gravida ipsum, quis ultricies erat iaculis pellentesque. Nulla congue iaculis feugiat. Suspendisse euismod congue ultricies. Sed blandit neque in libero ultricies aliquam. Donec euismod eget diam vitae vehicula. Fusce hendrerit purus leo. Aenean malesuada, ante eu aliquet mollis, diam erat suscipit eros, in.


WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

Skip to content