The independent resource on global security

10. Conventional arms control and regulation of new weapon technologies


Overview, Ian Davis

I. The Russia–Ukraine War and conventional arms control in Europe, Ian Davis

II. Multilateral regulation of inhumane weapons and other conventional weapons of humanitarian concern, Ian Davis and Giovanna Maletta

III. Intergovernmental efforts to address the challenges posed by autonomous weapon systems, Vincent Boulanin

IV. International transparency in arms procurement and military expenditure as confidence-building measures, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman

V. The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, Kolja Brockmann and Lauriane Héau

Conventional arms control in Europe

Europe is the only region that has created an integrated conventional arms control architecture. However, geopolitical divisions between Russia and most of the rest of Europe have resulted in its erosion to the point of collapse or irrelevance. For example, while the 2011 Vienna Document, which sets out several European confidence- and security-building measures, made it possible to draw critical attention to Russia’s military build-up on the border with Ukraine, it did not prevent the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. The existing conventional arms control instruments also appear to have little relevance to conflict management in other long-standing, simmering conflicts in Europe, and rebuilding a new order containing supporting elements of arms control will be extremely difficult.


The use of inhumane weapons in the Russia–Ukraine war

Many of the contemporary debates on conventional arms control are shaped by the concept of ‘humanitarian disarmament’. The need for strong and effective humanitarian disarmament law has been underscored by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the use there of cluster munitions, anti-personnel mines (APMs) and explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas (EWIPA). These attacks resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, but also generated international condemnation precisely because they involved weapons banned or restricted under humanitarian disarmament treaties and norms.


Regulating inhumane weapons

A small number of states that have chosen to retain, develop or use weapons seen as inhumane by others have repeatedly vetoed or stalled progress on strengthening the main multilateral treaties for regulating such weapons. Nonetheless, there were four positive developments in 2022. First, a separate process led by Ireland resulted in the adoption in November 2022 of a political declaration on EWIPA by 83 states. Second, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus the Principles on the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflicts in December 2022. Third, in June 2022 the United States announced a new policy on APMs, effectively banning their transfer, development, production or acquisition. Finally, states agreed to consider discussing the impact of technological developments on small arms and light weapons (SALW) manufacturing, continued to acknowledge the gender-related impact of illicit SALW and started working on the development of a new global framework for ammunition management. 


Autonomous weapon systems

Since 2017 a group of governmental experts has been leading efforts to regulate autonomous weapon systems (AWS). During the discussions in 2022, most states agreed that the ‘normative and operational framework’ governing AWS needed to be developed further and that one possible way to proceed was through a two-tiered approach: prohibiting certain AWS, while placing specific limits and requirements on the development and use of all other AWS. However, a handful of states continued to oppose even this approach.