Staten Island’s tainted edge (Geologic City report #3)

•1 August 2014 • Leave a Comment

Matthew Bolton:

Doug Weir over at the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons sent me this alarming review of the lingering effects of Manhattan Project-era uranium storage in Staten Island, New York, by the “Friends of the Pleistocene.” It’s a reminder that the human impact of military waste is not limited to former war zones, but can impact the “home front.” For more on the politics of military waste in New York City, see my post on the munitions abandoned in waters below the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Originally posted on FOP:

The Bayonne bridge is the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the world, and was the longest at the time of its completion in 1931. It connects Staten Island to New Jersey. Last week FOP headed for the Bayonne for our Geologic City project, but we hadn’t come to document the bridge.

In 1938, a three story Archer Daniels Midland Company warehouse stood in the shadow of the Bayonne with an address of  2377-2387 Richmond Terrace. Typically the warehouse stored vegetable oil. That year the buildings took on a new purpose when a ship carrying 1200 tons of raw uranium ore from the Belgian Congo unloaded 2,007 steel drums into its secret Staten Island destination.  According to Waterwire, not even the Staten Island Borough President at the time knew of its arrival.

The Staten Island uranium warehouse was arranged by Edgar Sengier. Sengier was a Belgian businessman and director…

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Obama’s New Landmine Policy: Change I Can Believe In, Tentatively

•9 July 2014 • 1 Comment

Without much fanfare last week, representatives of the State Department announced subtle but crucial changes to the US government’s stance on landmines, distancing itself from the unilateral tone of Bush-era policy.

The new policy will halt US production or acquisition of antipersonnel landmines, reduce stockpiles and begin “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.” The Pentagon has also clarified the number of landmines in its stockpiles – 3 million (contrary to earlier estimates of 10 million) – and released details on its ongoing destruction efforts.

“The US has finally come out of the shadows in indicating it intends to join the landmine treaty, and let’s hope it will move ahead rapidly to come on board,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, one of the leading members of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines.

To read my analysis of this important policy change, read my guest blog on the international relations blog Duck of Minerva.

Bosnian Flood Landmine Danger Reveals Need for Reinvigorated Demining Effort

•22 May 2014 • Leave a Comment

Matthew Bolton:

To answer all the queries I’ve been getting about the tragic situation in Bosnia with the massive flooding, I wrote this piece for the blog of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines:

Originally posted on Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog:

Dr. Matthew Bolton Assistant Professor of Political Science, Pace University, and Landmine Monitor Researcher

Over the last few days, I have been getting many questions from journalists and friends alike about the reports of the Bosnian floods possibly dislodging landmines.

I think this surprises people, perhaps because their conception of a minefield comes from computer game “Minesweeper,” in which a mine stays put until someone clears it. However, landmines are laid within a dynamic ecosystem. If they are buried, they can shift positions as soil freezes and unfreezes with the seasons. Soil erosion may expose a mine. Floods like those that have recently hit the Balkans can dislodge mines and wash them into new places.

The mine problem in Bosnia dates back to the war in the early 1990s. While many mined areas have been cleared since then, there are still an estimated 1,219km2 of land suspected to…

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Taking a Stand Against Gender Discrimination in Disarmament Policymaking

•19 May 2014 • 2 Comments

Last week, I attended the discussions on fully-autonomous weapons (“Killer Robots”) at the UN in Geneva as a representative of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC). The deliberations, held in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), represent the first dedicated diplomatic discussions of the dangers of automated violence — an encouraging landmark for the civil society Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

However, as Charli Carpenter and Sarah Knuckey pointed out in their excellent blog posts, the meeting was discouraging for its blasé and retrogressive gender dynamics. None of the 18 “expert” panelists called upon to testify before the states party were women, despite no shortage of women ably qualified to do so. Most of them were also from North America or Western Europe. Women who were experts were literally condemned to the margins — only allowed to speak in civil society statements from the back of the room or ‘Side Events.’ There were more subtle discourses too, with boosters of killer robots depicting the civil society campaign as hysterical, or claiming that robotic weapons would avoid soldiers’ “emotional responses” to war (which are supposedly a bad thing) and would be more “rational.” Read Heather Roff’s challenge to this discourse here.

All this is, of course, a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which committed states to include women in global policymaking on peace and security. Article 36, a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, released a statement today condemning the exclusion of multiple gender identities from global policymaking on peace and security, saying:

In response to the all-male expert selection at the CCW last week, women involved in the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots gathered to discuss ways to advance the participation and visibility of women in meetings on disarmament, peace and security. One suggestion from this group was that men should refuse to participate in all-male panels at meetings within this field.

As part of this effort, Article 36 is compiling a list of people working in the field of peace and security – particularly disarmament, arms control and the protection of civilians – who benefit from their male gender and have committed not to speak on panels that include only men.

Read Charli Carpenter’s take on our statement, here.

Back as undergraduate in the 1990s, I read the fantastic essay by Carol Cohn, picking apart the everyday casual misogyny of nuclear weapons experts. I naively assumed that such blatant gender discrimination in the weapons policymaking arena would at least be more subtle by now. Unfortunately, however, we’re still fighting Second Wave battles in the world of disarmament, asking the basic question of Cynthia Enloe: “Where are the women?”

Those of us who benefit from our conformity to cisgender male gender norms* have an obligation to call attention to the injustice of the privileges it affords us everyday. I have signed the Article 36 statement and call on all others in the disarmament community who benefit from being identified as men to add their support. For we must fight for the process of achieving disarmament to be as just as the outcomes we are also fighting for.

In the words of the civil society statement on disarmament “ways of work” at last year’s UN General Assembly First Committee meeting:

We are frustrated by the failure of the disarmament machinery to meet expectations—both of our governments and our publics—of addressing the security concerns of the majority. These failures undermine the UN’s legitimacy as a problem-solving body. … [T]his structure is anachronistic. The entire system must be reformed. …

Member states should incorporate a gender perspective into their disarmament and arms control- related programmes and policies. They should also discuss and identify ways of strengthening and improving the resolution on women and disarmament, such as by including strengthened language on incorporating a gender perspective in disarmament-related programmes and policies and by recognizing progress in other elements of the UN system.

To read the Article 36 statement on gender discrimination and add your name to the list of supporters, click here.


*To be “Cisgendered” means that your experience of your gender matches comfortably with the biological sex you were assigned at birth.

Killer Robots Now Officially on Global Policymaking Agenda

•15 November 2013 • Leave a Comment

This afternoon states party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed to open discussions on the emerging class of autonomous weapons systems — “killer robots” — which would operate independent of direct human control. I delivered a statement yesterday to the meeting of states, held at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva, on behalf of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a founding member NGO of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

This represents a remarkable achievement for the advocates, activists and academics who have been working tirelessly to wake up the international community to the dangerous implications of outsourcing violence to machines. It seems like science fiction, perhaps, but it is a real threat.

Congratulations campaigners!

Using the Arms Trade Treaty to Control Robotic Weapons

•8 November 2013 • Leave a Comment

In a post today for Control Arm’s new blog, Wim Zwijnenburg of IKV Pax Christi and I outline strategies for using  the Arms Trade Treaty to stem the potential flow of robotic weapons like drones to armed groups that abuse human rights and commit war crimes. However, we also argue that the Arms Trade Treaty will only be as good as its implementation — it is incumbent on concerned states and civil society to ensure the treaty is applied rigorously and  to the broadest range of conventional weapons possible.

Read the full article here.


US Landmine Policy Review: Supposedly Ending “Soon”, Still Stalled for Now

•7 November 2013 • Leave a Comment

When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama assured his supporters that “As president, I will help lead the way” on “international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons.” As someone who has researched the humanitarian impact of landmines and other weapons for a decade now, Obama’s promised policy position on conventional arms was one of the key reasons I voted for him.

Instead, on landmines, the Obama administration has hemmed and hahhed. It has left in place the Bush era policy, which was a regression from Clinton’s stance on landmines, while engaging in a “policy review” that has now been going on for four years. As a result, the continued US failure to join the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty put it at odds with numerous senators, humanitarian agencies and all of its NATO allies.

Ironically, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize supposedly for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” and commitment to “disarmament and arms control negotiations.”

Last year the State Department said that it would announce the results of its review “soon”. Later this was clarified, and an official told landmine ban campaigners that the US would reveal its position before the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty. That Meeting begins 2 December — less than four weeks from now — and we still haven’t heard a peep.

One encouraging sign was Secretary of State John Kerry’s signature of the Arms Trade Treaty in September this year. The US had not always been a particularly helpful negotiating partner in the diplomatic process leading up the new treaty, which will prevent the sale and transfer of conventional weapons to states and organizations that abuse human rights, commit war crimes or engage in terrorism, organized crime or piracy. But the Obama administration’s eventually positive role in getting the Treaty through the UN General Assembly represented a positive shift in toward a more progressive approach to arms control.

To unstick the landmine policy review, the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) — “comprised of thousands of individuals and NGOs which represent the myriad American citizens, landmine survivors, international allies, and campaigners from every corner of the globe” — has launched a new effort to push for US accession to the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty.

In a letter to Obama yesterday, the USCBL called on the President not to “delay further an announcement of the new U.S. landmine policy—a policy which should be aimed at a comprehensive ban on the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and ultimately at accession to the Mine Ban Treaty”

“It is unacceptable to continue to defer the outcome of this review,” said Zach Hudson, coordinator of the USCBL. “Landmines still have a devastating humanitarian impact in 2013. During the timeframe of this U.S. review alone, more than 16,000 new men, women, and children have been killed or maimed by a landmine, and ten more casualties will continue to occur every day. Many of these deaths and injuries will be a result of U.S. landmines from conflicts past. How can the administration continue to treat this as if it is not a priority?”

Join the conversation by tweeting @BarackObama, calling on him to join the Mine Ban Treaty, using the hashtag #banminesusa


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