By Harriet Hanssen, SCRAPweapons Social Media and Communications assistant and MA student at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS
As SCRAP followers will remember, Monday October 15th saw SCRAP director Dr. Dan Plesch chair the discussion of the Standing Committee for Peace and International Security at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) 139th assembly. The assembly of the Committee, which meets twice a year, provides a space for representative member parliamentarians to hear from the panellists, and express the views, concerns and commitments of their home state towards topics which continually drive for international peace. Held in the International Conference Centre, Geneva (CICG), located close to the Place des Nations and the United Nations’ office, the setting for the assembly felt relevant and poignant toward meaningful modern discourse of an holistic approach to disarmament and non-proliferation. Being the first practical foray of this reporter into the real-life world of multilateral diplomacy, this bright and crisp October day promised interesting engagement with an ever-developing subject, which is increasingly relevant and crucial to the security of future generations.
The continual refocus of the Committee for Peace and International Security proves the commitment of the IPU to the prevention of conflict and maintenance of peace. On the 15th of October, the committee’s assembly was focussed on the importance of comprehensive disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons. This focus shows consideration of the UN Secretary General’s recent disarmament agenda, a focus increasingly shared by an encouragingly conscious and vocal presence in the international community.
In an introductory video, the 1540 Committee Chair, Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, emphasised the importance of international collaboration to achieve increased implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1540, to work towards the common objective of “preventing the catastrophic use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by non-state actors”, and also commended the commitment of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs to facilitating the ability of states to do this.
Mr. J.I. Echániz, President of the IPU Committee on Peace and International Security, highlighted the contribution of SCRAPweapons’ work to Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ new disarmament agenda, Securing Our Common Future, a successful contribution which assists in motivating new generations of SCRAPpers and further young advocates for disarmament.
The following statements from the panellists, Ambassador Janis Karklins, Ms. Kersten Vignard and Ms. Silvia Mercogliano, all of whom are prominent figures in the international disarmament community, concentrated on the crucial position of parliamentarians in the strive to effectively achieve global disarmament. Ms. Vignard, Chief of Operations and Deputy to the Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, used her remarks to comment on the uncertainty and unpredictability of new weapons technologies given rapid advancements in data protection, AI, privacy and vehicular autonomy. According to Ms. Vignard, the unprecedented way in which such technologies are interwoven with new weapons systems calls for the motivated application of the world’s best young minds to understanding the risks such combined technologies present. Ms. Mercogliano focussed on the Secretary General’s new agenda, and stressed that while the agenda invites the international community into a refreshed dialogue surrounding disarmament, this opportunity for dialogue must be taken with new energy and intention for change.
Comments from a number of representatives, including India, Korea, Thailand, South Africa, China, Ukraine, Palestine, Chad, Bahrain, United Kingdom, and Sudan, displayed a range of perspectives which highlighted the immense variety in the views held by parliamentarians across the globe. Most notable was the contribution from Chad, who spoke on behalf of a nation in the continued “fight for survival against poverty and the lack of food security”, and placed blame for continued killing on the unrelenting making and trading of weapons by states, in a world where schools do not teach the young how to prohibit arms production. Chads impassioned comments prompted helpful response from panellist Ambassador Karklins. Also significant were comments from Bahrain, who echoed Chad’s emphasis on the responsibility of individual states, whom Bahrain attested should put aside their own selfish interests and realise that disarmament contributes to our common interest of peace.
The level of passion by which some representatives outlined their positions “inspired” panellist Ms. Vignard, and is indicative of how an increasing number of countries are engaging with disarmament as a conversation which is developing in prominence, and can no-longer be ignored. Indeed, the whole day of discussion, which further included opportunity to meet with representatives from PNND (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament), as well as SCRAP committee member Marc Finaud of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, proved that while emerging dialogues surrounding disarmament have made positive progress in recent months and years, there is still a crucial audience to engage with if advocates want to successfully achieve peace through global disarmament.
By Sid Bagri, MA student at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS.
Even when broken down into statistics, the humanitarian toll is sobering. With 10,000 civilians dead, 22 million in need of aid, 8 million subjected to famine, and 1 million infected with cholera, the results of the disastrous Yemen war speak of a conflict that has been handled well outside the bounds of acceptable conduct (Bazzi 2018). As counterintuitive as it may seem, the international rules and norms that govern war serve an important purpose in limiting civilian casualties and keeping savage weapons and tactics from being used on the battlefield. These guidelines have been routinely flouted during this war and the reputational spill-over effect has begun to affect Western countries involved in the conflict. The United States in particular has willingly mired itself in what is increasingly an endless war under the pretense of assisting its Saudi ally, but this excuse grows more flimsy with every new horrifying revelation about the humanitarian cost. Despite all this, the Yemen war has drawn scant attention in the West due to the current crisis in legitimacy of the Liberal world order constructed largely by America. All across the Western world pundits have been bemoaning the fact that the Liberal order has come under attack from within and repeatedly talk about the importance of maintaining the rules based system that has served the world since the end of World War II. The current war in Yemen is an example of how the rules based order continues to crumble, but it also presents an opportunity. The best way for America to uphold the Liberal order is to start abiding by the rules that help maintain it, which in this context would mean ending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and any further involvement in the war. The best way to accomplish this goal is start abiding by the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
The ATT is one of the UN’s more recent endeavors which only came into force in 2014. The treaty’s goal is to regulate the sale of conventional weapons such as planes, tanks, and guns in the arms market (Kimball 2016). The key tenet underpinning the treaty is the idea that countries should limit or eliminate weapon sales to certain regimes if they have good reason to believe that these weapons will be used to ignore international law or violate human rights (Kimball 2016). So far, every country in the European Union has signed and ratified the treaty, but predictably, Russia and China have refused to take either of these steps. The US, under President Barack Obama, signed the treaty, but the Republican controlled Senate refused to ratify it (The Economist 2018). The Trump Administration’s well-known disdain for multilateralism means that the treaty will likely never be ratified. However, a country can still take steps to abide by the treaty even without ratification, and it is in this endeavor that America has failed spectacularly. The ATT has failed in its goal of limiting atrocities because powerful Western nations have chosen to ignore it. Saudi Arabia does not pretend to care about human rights and yet the West continues to overlook this problem in order to pursue narrowly defined interests, which in this case is supporting a supposed ally in a regional proxy war that has tenuous links to US national security (NY Times 2018). Donald Trump and his staff have made no secret of their fondness for the Saudi autocrats which has been best exemplified by their willingness to not just push weapon sales through congress but also to deploy US Special Forces to directly aid the Saudi regime (Hume 2018). These actions have removed all doubt that the US has been implicated in the Saudi campaign that has often resulted in the indiscriminate killing of civilians and the obstruction of humanitarian aid. The easiest way for America to limit the violence, salvage its reputation and reinforce the rules based order is to start abiding by the ATT by stopping weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.
It is in America’s long term interest to abide by the ATT. The resurgence of right-wing nationalism across the West has presented an existential threat to the very idea of an international community with common interests. Multiple European demagogues have questioned the existence of the European Union in the name of reclaiming sovereignty and this has put Europe in its greatest predicament since the end of World War II. The current American president is actively undermining the global economic system and prefers bilateral dealings with foreign countries instead of multilateral partnerships. It is only a matter of time before this phenomenon truly begins to affect global organizations like the UN, and if this happens international law will be further weakened. America more than any other country benefits from the international system it has built and it has allowed America to expand its presence across the world, and continuing to supply weapons to the war in Yemen would show the world that America’s commitment to the global order is surface level at best. The US is no longer in a position to pick and choose which laws it wants to follow. Rising authoritarianism means that the US must whole-heartedly commit itself to protecting and upholding international law if it wants the world to take it seriously on issues of morality. Without this commitment, criticizing the immorality of authoritarian regimes such as the Saudi’s will look more like opportunism rather than a genuinely held value.
There is also a short-term interest in avoiding the Yemen war. The possibility of America becoming embroiled in yet another unwinnable war in the Middle East cannot be ignored. The US is currently engaged in a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq which never really ended, as well as drone operations active in several countries across Africa and the other parts of the Middle East (Liautaud 2018). Every single one of these conflicts increasingly looks intractable, and becoming involved in another war in Yemen, officially or otherwise, would only serve to further drain the US of its power and prestige while accomplishing little in terms of national security. The cost of disengaging from this conflict would no doubt be interpreted as a slap in the face towards Saudi Arabia, a close ally, and this concern is worth considering, especially in a region where stable governments are increasingly a rarity, but the cost of continued engagement could well be more dire due to all the reasons previously discussed. When looking at the misery and destruction that this war has inflicted on Yemen, it is reasonable to conclude that bloodying ones hands in order to avoid disappointing a supposed ally is a poor reason to keep engaging. If it is indeed too late to stop the carnage, the least America can do is avoid further implication in it.
Tomorrow’s (15th October) highly anticipated Inter-Parliamentary Union panel discussion with the Standing Committee for Peace and International Security, chaired by Dr. Dan Plesch, will discuss comprehensive disarmament and non-proliferation. The panel will consist of Ambassador Janis Karklins, Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations in Geneva, Ms. Kersten Vignard, Chief of Operations and Deputy to the Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, and Ms Silvia Mercogliano, Political Affairs Officer, UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. After introductory remarks by the panellists, the floor will be open for an exchange of views, and an interactive q&a.
The session taking place in Geneva will address the following questions:
Why is disarmament essential in a deteriorated security environment?
How does disarmament contribute to sustainable development and peace?
How can the United Nations and parliaments cooperate to ensure better implementation of the agenda?
How can members of parliament ensure that disarmament measures are effectively implemented?
What institutional and legal tools do members of parliament have for achieving disarmament?
What specific steps can parliamentarians take to ensure democratic oversight of disarmament and non-proliferation?
According to the IPU’s concept note, “The aim of the panel discussion is to provide Committee members with an opportunity to reflect on the agenda, discuss the challenges to implement disarmament in a holistic manner, and consider arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation strategies related to weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons and future weapon technologies. This session will also be an opportunity to expound on the longterm project on oversight of disarmament launched by the Committee.”
SCRAP can confirm, technology permitting, that we will be streaming the discussion live from Geneva on facebook from 1:30pm UK time! Keep an eye on our facebook page for the livestream, and on our twitter feed for live updates from the assembly (@SCRAPweapons).
Dr. Dan Plesch, of CISD and SCRAP, moderates meeting of 170+ countries of the 139th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Geneva
On Monday the 15th of October, Dr. Plesch will chair a plenary discussion with the panel for the Standing Committee on Peace and International Security, at the 139th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Geneva.
Written by Isabella Steel, MA International Studies and Diplomacy Candidate 2017/2018 at SOAS University of London
Comparisons are often made between the regulation of cyber and nuclear weapons. This analogy, however, is severely limited – particularly in relation to disarmament – and fails to reflect the unique dynamics of each. This short discussion will briefly examine the different logics of nuclear and cyber-deterrence (in cases of state-versus-state use). It argues that, unlike nuclear, cyber disarmament is not a feasible policy, in large part due to cyber’s dual civilian and military use. In the absence of disarmament as a viable strategy, it asks how cyber-weapons and war can be regulated, concluding by proposing an International Cyberwar Convention (ICWC) with a number of institutional functions, such as rule clarification and counter-measures for transgression.
Nuclear weapons are highly physical, measurable objects which fall exclusively under state control. Although uranium enrichment has dual-purpose for nuclear power, the destructive scope of nuclear weapons is widely recognised. This has helped establish a widespread system of global monitoring (however hard to enforce) which regulates the development, let alone use, of such weaponry. So-called nuclear deterrence works on the assumption that if a state has internationally-known nuclear capabilities, other states will not launch nuclear weapons against it, for fear of a nuclear response which would result in mutually-assured-destruction. Efforts to promote nuclear disarmament work within this contextual framework.
In contrast, cyberspace is governed by new dynamics. Cyber-weapons are usually intangible; widely and easily available; hard to reliably attribute; and used ubiquitously and simultaneously by civilians, the state and the military. This makes demarcation between cyber-weaponry and wider cyber-technology extremely difficult. Cyber-weaponry can broadly be divided into the delivery method weapon, such as a computer; and an intangible cyberspace component, such as computer-programmes, digital command operations and network viruses. Yet the infrastructure, networks and technology upon which cyber-weapons depend are simultaneously critical to the smooth operation of modern digitalised life, for example, online banking.
The most notable examples of (alleged) state use of cyber-weaponry include Israeli and US deployment of the Stuxnet malware to disable an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010. The Stuxnet worm took control of the centrifuge array in the Natanz nuclear facility, causing individual machines to malfunction and self-destruct, despite false data suggesting to operators correct functioning (see Raboin, 2011). Distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks were launched by Russia against Estonia in 2007 (see Lucas, 2017) and Georgia in 2008 (see Krebs, 2008). DDoS attacks function by overwhelming a system with so many additional requests that the network stops. In Estonia, sites visited approximately 1000 times per day, had nearly 2000 visits and requests per second (Meyers, 2007). It is, however, the frequency rather than technological nature that distinguish legitimate requests from those with hostile intent used in a DDoS attack. This again makes cyber regulation and disarmament difficult.
These examples demonstrate the unique dynamics of cyber-space. In the context of cyber-conflict, with at least partially dematerialised effects, revisitation of how terms such as territoriality and spatiality, causality and temporality, ‘destruction’ and ‘injury’ are defined is vitally needed. Traditional notions of deterrence must also be reassessed to apply to cyberspace.
Scholars broadly agree that cyberspace favours the attacker (see Libicki, 2009; Clarke and Knake, 2010). The speed, anonymity and virtual omnipresence of cyberattacks that can be launched from multiple locations across the world puts great pressure on cyber-defences. Cyberspace appears to reward those with strong offensive capabilities, who strike first, quickly and pre-emptively. Indeed, a cyber-weapon can rarely be identified as such until after an attack. Contrary to traditional notions of deterrence, an adversary cannot credibly be persuaded that a cyber-attack they unleash would be met with an immediate and costly response. Neither can a state reveal its offensive capability, nor plausibly threaten a certain scale of retaliation, because to do so would be to illuminate the very vulnerabilities of an adversary’s system that give cyber-weapons their potency.
Moreover, attribution challenges give hostile actors scope to act with impunity. Lack of certainty regarding the identity of a cyber-attack perpetrator severely limits the lawful scope of a victimised state to respond. A cross-domain response – that is a non-cyber response to a cyber-attack – is often seen as an option in cases of contested attribution, for example diplomatic or economic sanctions. Yet there remains fear of unlawfully escalating conflict, and recognition of the severity of misattribution. The difficulty of credible, lawful retaliation is augmented by the – perhaps deliberate – lack of consensus regarding what is a proportional response in cyberspace. As Schmitt (2015) argues, ‘it cannot be the case that you can drop a bomb on every 17-year-old kid that is hacking into your systems and military systems’. What would constitute a proportional response to such conduct remains, however, contested.
These unique dynamics render full disarmament neither a viable, enforceable nor indeed useful option for cyberweapons. They are simply too difficult to divorce from the multiple and highly advantageous societal – as opposed to specifically military – uses. Moreover, proponents of nuclear disarmament do not necessarily advocate the wholesale end of war, but recognise the particularly indiscriminate destruction that nuclear weapons can cause. In contrast, some scholars argue that cyber-weapons have the potential (if properly and enforceably regulated) to be more discriminatory, proportional and ‘ethical’ (in terms of reducing civilian casualties, and material destruction and damage) than conventional weapons. Lucas (2017) argued that Stuxnet ‘may have been the first purely ethical weapon ever deployed’.
How to move forward? The need for an International Cyber-War Convention:
In light of these observations and of SCRAP’s foundational aims, the central question is how – in the absence of disarmament as a viable option – cyber-weapons should be regulated. To-date, global efforts to regulate cyber-war have been limited, despite bilateral, regional and private sector emphasis on defence cooperation, and tackling of cyber-crime. I propose that an International Cyberwar Convention (ICWC) would be a useful step to a) provide rule clarification; b) improve transparency and attribution; and c) offer incentives for compliance and authorisation of counter-measures for transgression. These reflect the particular practical challenges of cyberspace that need urgent redress. The remainder of this article will briefly outline what is envisaged by such institutional functions.
At present, whilst the applicability of international law to cyberspace is broadly undisputed, there is a lack of consensus regarding how it applies, and how to define terms such as ‘armed force’, ‘hostilities’ and ‘destruction’. This ‘grey area’ of law gives states freedom to act with impunity, pushing the metaphorical boundaries without consequence. Whilst the classification of ‘armed conflict’ is highly difficult, it is important to note that none of the incidents outlined at the start of this article were declared cases of international war. It is thus important to set thresholds, for example, for what constitutes ‘armed force’ in cyberspace, so states know what conduct – and response – is legally permitted. At present, it is more important to draw a line, than where exactly that line is drawn. An ICWC would also build international confidence by signalling state intentions: if a state is willing to explicitly violate a binding international agreement, then it reveals much about their motives.
The drawing of such a line is, however, futile if cyber-attacks cannot be reliably attributed. An ICWC would therefore have a crucial role in creating a collective attribution mechanism. Attribution is difficult, but not impossible, particularly in relation to state-versus-state use of cyber-weapons, where stakes are high and resources generally plentiful. FireEye – a Californian-based cyber-security firm – revealed the links between the cyber-hacker group APT28 and the Russian state through examination of forensic details left in the malware. If such technical expertise could be pooled, and resources, intelligence and data shared, attribution would become easier. Particularly in cases of a hostile state’s use of a third-party state’s cyber infrastructure to launch an attack, cooperation from that third-party would be especially useful. There should also be reassessment of what ‘reliable attribution’ is. As in courts of law, it rests on ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ rather than 100 percent certainty. Lucas (2017) proposes the ‘Agatha Christie principle’ – ‘namely, ignore the background distracts, and focus upon who stands to benefit most from the deed in question. Nine times out of ten, you’ve got your perpetrator and 90 percent certainty is probably close enough for government work’.
Most importantly, for an ICWC to have hope of success there must be sufficient incentives for states to join. For smaller states, such as Georgia, less able to defend themselves from the cyber-onslaught of technological-giants like Russia and the US, an ICWC that promises a range of support and benefits to compliance is highly appealing. For larger states, however, who fear that commitment to an ICWC would constrain their freedom of action, whilst allowing non-signatories to catch-up technologically and act with impunity, the case for compliance is more difficult. Yet, given that other states are likely to catch-up regardless, such technological giants have incentive to join. As predominant players, they would have great scope to lead the development of an ICWC and shape how international norms around cyberspace develop (implicitly in their interests).
Whilst this article challenges analogies between nuclear and cyber, particularly in relation to disarmament, there are parallels between this and how nuclear powers have, through offers to develop civilian nuclear technology, limited proliferation but also maintained a clear global hierarchy which serves their self-interests.
Finally, having clarified rules of conduct, an ICWC would need to be able to authorise and enforce counter-measures for transgression. At present, there is little consensus regarding what conduct is prohibited, what constitutes a proportional response in cyberspace and how cross-domain reprisals should be managed. Yet, to limit cyber-conflict and enhance deterrence as a credible course of action, realistic and practically enforceable counter-measures must be established. Whilst NATO invocation of Article 5 in relation to cyberspace remains ambiguous, there is scope for collective response. This would have to, however, avoid the pitfalls of the UN Security Council which, plagued by divisions within the P5, is subject to counter-productive political alliances of self-interest. This article thus proposes delegation of authorisation of counter-measures for transgression to an international independent body.
The development of an ICWC faces significant challenge from scholars, practitioners and politicians alike. Expert views range from belief that any international agreement designed to constrain state action would be futile given its unenforceability (Clarke and Knake, 2010), to belief that it is too soon, or that a ‘soft-law’ strategy of voluntary norms and lose guidelines would have greater utility than formal obligations (Lucas, 2016). This paper contends, however, that a binding agreement is not only vital, but possible (despite inevitable challenges). An ICWC has scope to reflect, shape and accelerate norm development, averting a potential scenario where hostile state use of cyber-weapons continues almost entirely unregulated.
David Franco is a alumnus of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London and, former SCRAP Project Co-ordinator from 2011 to 2012. Interview by: Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab
What was it like working for SCRAP between 2011 and 2012?
I first got involved with SCRAP in July 2011, near the end of my master’s. I then took the formal role of project co-ordinator in October, working through to April 2012. Not much existed at the time in terms of infrastructure around SCRAP. When Dan [Plesch] first raised it with me, he had drafted the proposal. Dan and CISD have a very good network of contacts with the disarmament community and the arms control community—with Reaching Critical Will or the International Peace Bureau, SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute], or indeed with VERTIC [Verification Research, Training and Information Centre]. When he first raised it with me, it was: “We’ve got this proposal. We need to start promoting it. We need to start building coalitions with like-minded organisations and movements.”
The reality is that the movement was very split back then between the small arms and illegal trade movement on the one hand—which was highly humanitarian and on the back of the landmines work—and then on the other hand you had the nuclear disarmament campaign and movements, you know, the likes of ICAN, and other movements. But they weren’t talking to each other much back then. So we took it upon ourselves to say: “We are a global disarmament movement. Our proposal advocates for general and complete disarmament. So we’ve got to bridge these two communities and bring them together.”
At the time would you have envisaged the developments that have happened since then with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the Ban Treaty?
The reality was back then you could already sense that the Arms Trade Treaty was brewing. I’d say more so than the Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons. On the nuclear weapons front, you had traditionally seen the regional bans, like in Latin America. CISD was doing a lot of work, and continues to do a lot of work around a Middle East free of Weapons of Mass Destruction, but you had never—apart from the work of the NPT itself—you had never really seen that happening.
In fact, I did attend the 2012 review conference of the NPT in Vienna, when I was working for SCRAP and reported from there, and the usual debate was still between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and disarmament versus non-proliferation. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d see a global ban [on nuclear weapons] approved so quickly. Of course, it’s not fully approved. It’s been passed, but only a number of countries have ratified it; we’re not likely to see any nuclear ‘haves’ ratify it. But, even this is a major step.
What changes have you seen since then? Have the discussions changed? Are the different movements talking more to each other?
Much more. When I started they weren’t talking much to each other, but you could already see the bridge between the two communities was plainly the humanitarian element. So in the same way that you could argue nuclear weapons, or weapons of mass destruction generally, could actually lead to a destruction of humanity, small weapons are also inhumane in many respects: ranging from landmines, but also quite frankly an AK-47 in the hands of a child soldier in any war-torn country. So there was that common element to pull from.
You could already see delegations speaking of this commonality across the two, but if you look at the actual UN—the UN Secretary General’s disarmament agenda, Our Common Future—you can see that the underlying common element across the board, whether it is for conventional or whether it is for weapons of mass destruction, is this human element. It is approaching it from a ‘humanitarianist’ perspective.
This is where I think things have really changed. It’s no longer two communities touching tangentially on it, and sort of overlapping just slightly. I can clearly see a convergence which the UN Agenda in my view clearly stipulates.
There has been a lot of stalling at the Conference on Disarmament, and not many decisions are taken. Are governments the best way to approach this? Is there another way to consider these issues?
It’s not just governments, but also the forum itself and the rules of engagement and the rules of decision-making. If you look at the Conference on Disarmament at the UN, I think if my memory is right, all decisions need to be adopted by unanimity and adopted by consensus. That’s why you’ve seen it stalled for so long. You know, something debated and approved, and voted and approved, at the General Assembly-level is by a rule of the majority.
Of course, the majority are the ‘have-nots’. So [the General Assembly] is where we will likely see way more progress, at least when it comes to establishing international norms, not necessarily establishing or translating those norms into actual adoption by the entire international community.
I think the role of civil society and popular forces remains very important today and will be even more important in the future: academia, think tanks, civil society at large, whether it is at an expert-level or simply at a non-expert-level. This is the challenge that I think academia and some of these movements have: to capture the imagination of the layman who is not an expert in all these things and is usually guided more by fears of insecurity.
The argument goes: “How are you going to have states, without arms?” That’s usually the reaction that most people have when you present to them a project like SCRAP or the idea of general and complete disarmament. I think we’ve got a task to try to bridge that and try to simplify our jargon in a way that captures the imagination of others. I suppose that means translating the fear or insecurity, or at least making them see that there’s other ways to achieve security, as well, not just through boosting up your defence, etc.
Do you have advice for current SCRAPers, current students, people reading the blog? What should we be focusing on?
I’d start with the simplification of the language. I apply that to myself, as well. I remember with this blog that I last wrote, you know, I was trying not to be overly technical, and in fact, you mentioned to me: “Are you sure you want to use that word instead of one that is more commonly known?” So that would be one piece of advice: try to step away a little bit—even though the base is obviously academic and the research is academic, and is very in-depth—try to take it a level up and speak to the commoners, so to speak.
I’d say coalitions are very important. I’m not sure how much of that is being done on this today. That doesn’t just apply to the disarmament movement. You look at the human rights space or the environmental space and you’ve got very large NGOs—or large and small—each fighting their turf, to appear on the front page of newspapers. You just fragment the resources and you just fragment the message. I think it’s very important to build platforms with like-minded organisations. To actually try and find not what makes them different, but what makes them similar, then try to capitalise on that commonality.
Back in 2012, we launched the first-ever webinar, SCRAP webinar, on the Global Day for Action on Military Spending, and we invited as guest speakers SIPRI, the International Peace Bureau, we also invited Reaching Critical Will. I’m not sure how much of that is being done, but my recommendation would be to try and do more of these. They reinforce each other; they feed each other. Then, when it comes to attending the review conference of the NPT, if you’ve already built a coalition, you can actually, rather than having a fragmented voice when speaking to different delegations, you can bring that one common voice to a delegation. I think that has way more impact that just going solo.
Then, of course, there is the belief in the cause. It is very easy to get very rapidly frustrated with anything; it doesn’t need to only apply to disarmament. Whether it is environmentalism, whether it is human rights, whether it is disarmament or arms control, these things don’t move very fast. They are a slow burn. The context and the conditions under which these movements operate is different nations coming together and agreeing on something, which is usually after a traumatic experience or near-traumatic experiences, like in the ‘80s, early ‘90s and, of course, after the Second World War. So they are a slow burn: be patient and believe in your cause. You don’t need the big name behind you. You don’t all need to be working with large movements in order to actually feel that you are making a difference. Just by taking part in something like this, just by writing a blog, just by promoting that message, you are already—in some ways—making a difference and moving the needle.
Where do we go from here? What do you see for the future?
I’m very cautiously optimistic. I do think we’re facing very challenging times. I know it’s become a bit of a buzzword to say the world is sliding back to a zero-sum game; the international order is in disarray; Trump is just undoing it. There’s a reason why Trump is there. There’s a reason why we’ve got a Brexit. There’s a reason why you’ve got ethno-nationalistic movements springing up all over the place in Europe. We need to think carefully as to what are those reasons that have led these types of policy agendas to the front page. Why are we facing what we are facing?
Then it’s only by answering that ‘why’, that I think we will be able to devise a clear strategy for how we can capture this narrative that is bent on making structural changes to our international order towards ones that are conducive to more equality both domestically and on the international arena. So that’s why I say cautiously.
Now the optimistic bit is that obviously: we didn’t have an Arms Trade Treaty; we didn’t have a global ban on nuclear weapons; we didn’t have a UN-sanctioned agenda. Now we do. So I think we need to capitalize on the momentum, we need to capitalise on these [successes]. The movement needs to try to turn these into actual tangible policies because the UNSC agenda is just an agenda. It’s a framework. It doesn’t actually propose any clear policy changes. That’s down to the governments to do so, whether bilaterally or multilaterally. But I think that’s where the civil society needs to in a way lift and guide the governments towards achieving that path. And perhaps use that energy to reinvigorate the stalled process at the Conference on Disarmament and at all the forums that haven’t seen any progress for a long time.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I don’t know how directly linked all of this is… but the one discussion that seems to continue to simmer is the state of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): this eternal tension between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and between disarmament and non-proliferation. I think one feeds the other, to be honest. The ‘haves’ are not disarming, therefore the ‘have-nots’, some of them, choose to proliferate. Meanwhile, the ‘haves’, are using the arguments that ‘some are choosing to proliferate’ as a reason to not give up their arms. I’m not quite sure what the answer is, to that to be honest. This is more of an open question.
I think the world powers need to move past that debate, one way or another. I think we need to move past the constant fear-mongering, narrative around the NPT and how it’s about to, every time there’s a review conference that doesn’t achieve or doesn’t move past that friction, there is this constant fear-mongering narrative that the NPT is about to collapse. That’s quite a dangerous narrative because I think it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to be quite careful about that because the NPT is the cornerstone of the current international order, and despite a number of governments not being party to the NPT, it’s still a core foundation. That’s what I would add.
Written by David Franco, alumnus of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London, and former SCRAP Project Co-ordinator from 2011 to 2012.
If, in 2010, someone had predicted that in less than a decade the world would have adopted an arms trade treaty and a global ban on nuclear weapons, many critics would have dismissed them as being unrealistic. Yet that is precisely what has happened, demonstrating that human drive and a commitment to world stability and humanitarianism can trump self-interest and bridge the gap between aspirations and reality.
When I worked on the SCRAP project between 2011 and 2012, our strategy consisted of coalescing with like-minded disarmament platforms, including the small arms and humanitarian movements, to reinvigorate the stalled global disarmament agenda. Building on the successes of the 1980s and 1990s in the areas of conventional and weapons of mass destruction disarmament and arms control, we drafted and took a proposal to the United Nations advocating for the adoption of an internationally legally-binding agreement on general and complete disarmament.
The idea of general and complete disarmament is not founded on illusion or delusion, but on the realist certainty that the absence of such an aspiration, and its practical applications, exposes the world to disaster and injustice. Fortunately, many people are ready to commit and spend time and effort pursuing this objective. Thanks to the work of post-graduate and doctoral students and volunteers at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the SCRAP flame continues to burn vigorously, showing us the path to a more stable world. From digital campaigns and advocacy activity in international fora, through to academic research and publications, the SCRAP project marches on.
In the current environment, where multilateral diplomacy, international institutions and global stability are under attack, and where the international order is sliding dangerously back to a zero-sum game, pursuing a global disarmament agenda is more critical than ever. Disarmament is not a fairy tale nor a theoretical ideal. It is a practical paradigm aimed at moving weapons out of security agendas by scaling back and ultimately removing weapons of mass destruction and controlling conventional weapons. That is precisely what SCRAP proposes, and that is also what the UN is committed to pursuing with its recently launched disarmament agenda Securing Our Common Future.
The road will be long and there will be setbacks. We may even see the return of great power conflict: a prospect that is infinitely more likely if disarmament is ignored. Skeptics and opponents will criticise and try to undermine the movement, but that has always been the case throughout history. Our challenge rests in building on the recent successes and expanding the movement to incorporate those who have been hesitant to support this work. Often would-be supporters ask why SCRAP advocates for general and complete disarmament instead of nuclear disarmament or the removal of small arms or land mines. The hyper destructive nature of nuclear weapons and their threat to humanity as a whole has meant nuclear disarmament movements have attracted large numbers of supporters. Similarly, civil society can relate more easily to the threat that the illegal arms trade poses to unstable nations experiencing civil conflict or the indiscriminate nature of land mines. A holistic approach to disarmament appears too daunting or unrealistic to many, yet it is critical given that weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms often feed each other.
The SCRAP team and anyone working in disarmament have a challenging road ahead, yet the personal and collective reward is incalculable. We must also recognize how far we have already come. Six years ago, we did not have an arms trade treaty, a global ban on nuclear weapons or a clearly delineated and UN-sanctioned disarmament agenda. We do not know what the future holds but if world powers, international organisations, academia and civil society at large do not take disarmament seriously, we will all pay the price. The SCRAP team knows it. We all know it. It’s time we all turned that knowledge into tangible action.
Written by Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab, MA International Studies and Diplomacy Student at SOAS University of London and social media and public engagement coordinator for SCRAP.
It’s been 73 years this week since the United States detonated atomic bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the final stages of World War II. The bombings happened on the mornings of 6th and 9th August, 1945 respectively. Today, they remain the only use of nuclear weapons in war. However, as the potential for a new nuclear arms-race grows, we cannot forget the real-life consequences of using these weapons.
Setsuko Thurlow, a hibakusha or survivor of the atomic bomb, painted a vivid picture of the destruction in Hiroshima during her speech on behalf of ICAN at the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Thurlow was 13-years-old during the bombing but still remembers the destruction:
‘At 8:15, I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. As I regained consciousness in the silence and darkness, I found myself pinned by the collapsed building. I began to hear my classmates’ faint cries: “Mother, help me. God, help me.”
Then, suddenly, I felt hands touching my left shoulder, and heard a man saying: “Don’t give up! Keep pushing! I am trying to free you. See the light coming through that opening? Crawl towards it as quickly as you can.” As I crawled out, the ruins were on fire. Most of my classmates in that building were burned to death alive. I saw all around me utter, unimaginable devastation.’ (You can read the transcript of her speech and watch the ceremony here.)
Three days later, a second bomb, a plutonium implosion-type bomb known as ‘Fat Man’, was detonated over Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. killing at least 35,000 to 40,000 people instantly, and a further 35,000 to 40,000 people over the next several months as a result of burns, radiation sickness, other injuries, and malnutrition.
Never Again: A Timeline
In the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the world vowed never again to repeat the horrors of the bombings. In 1946, the first resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly established a commission tasked with eliminating nuclear weapons and ensuring the use of atomic energy only for peaceful purposes.
As tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified in the years after World War II, fears of an unwinnable nuclear war led the United Nations General Assembly to unanimously pass resolution 1378 in 1959, which called for general and complete disarmament, describing it as the most important question in the world today.
Then in 1961, the McCloy-Zorin joint statement between the United States and Soviet Union set out a number of principles for a general and complete disarmament agreement. As Bolton (2016, p. 7) describes the UN General Assembly, endorsed this statement and created a disarmament committee, which later evolved into the conference on disarmament. However, these efforts soon stalled with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Throughout the 1960s, smaller states continued to push for nuclear disarmament, which lead to the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1967, as well as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968, in which non-nuclear weapon states promised never to undertake to develop or receive nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapon states promised to disarm. As Article IV states: ‘Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.’
Now 50 years later, overall discussions of general and complete disarmament have stalled and frustration over the lack of progress on disarmament by nuclear-weapon states led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by the United Nations General Assembly on 7 July 2017. The treaty will come into force once 50 states have ratified or acceded to it.
Yet, nuclear disarmament is unlikely if states believe it will make them vulnerable to conventional attacks. Similarly, states will not undertake conventional disarmament so long as nuclear weapons exist. With this reality in mind, SCRAP has proposed a framework for general and complete disarmament that bypasses real and diplomatic obstacles to disarmament. Our aim is to reinvigorate the global discussion.
Securing Our Common Future
On 24 May 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced his disarmament agenda. In it, he pointed out that the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki are considered low-yield today. In fact, some nuclear weapons today are estimated to be 3,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped over Hiroshima. An estimated 15,000 nuclear bombs remain stockpiled in nine countries (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea).
According to the report, there is ‘widespread perception that progress towards nuclear disarmament has stalled and there are troubling signs that the nuclear agenda is now moving in the wrong direction’ (16-17). So it outlines a number of action plans for resuming dialogue, extending norms against nuclear weapons and preparing for a world without nuclear weapons. As Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at SOAS University of London explained, the ‘inspiring, visionary document’ was developed after extensive consultations with both governments and civil society. You can read a summary of all the report’s action plans here.
Discussions around implementing this agenda are happening in Geneva this month and next month and SCRAP will be attending the meetings. You can find out more details on our event page.
This is an older interview but many of the themes are still relevant today. In August 2014, Dr. Dan Plesch sat down with Truthloader to talk about the possibility of World War III. The interview is split into three parts. Give them a listen below.
A network of global institutions were created in 1945 to try and avert another global conflict. They have been gradually undermined over the last 20 years, and now we see them being trashed wholesale. The world leaders responsible are perhaps best described by General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove: “They have neither the time nor inclination for strategic thought.” The latest round of top-level summits and meetings have duly been coloured by a very real fear of war – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
This year’s NATO Summit and the upcoming Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki present the best opportunities in years for today’s leaders to emulate their more distinguished predecessors, who understood that disarmament and arms control were prerequisites for the enhancement of national security and international stability.
At the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, NATO Summit declarations were full of debate on arms control and disarmament. And back in 1986, the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik resulted in one of the greatest disarmament achievements of the last century: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which helped dramatically reduce US-Soviet tensions in Europe. But this year’s NATO summit began with an openly acrimonious exchange over the allies’ relative defence spending, and the US and Russia have both threatened to withdraw from the INF altogether.
Outside of the North Korea-US talks, disarmament and nuclear arms control are all but left out of today’s high-level summits. All the while, the global arms control architecture is falling apart, global military expenditure is at its highest since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the potential nuclear flashpoints in Europe, the Middle East and the South China Sea are multiplying. In a climate like this, what hope is there for eliminating the nuclear threat altogether?
The challenge has been taken up by the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, who recently issued a document entitled Securing Our Common Future. This is an inspiring, visionary document produced after extensive consultations with governments and civil society. For those with no prior knowledge but now seeking less military solutions to global and regional problems, it’s an introduction and a handbook to the hows and whys of disarmament – a rough guide to world peace, if you will.
In clear terms, Guterres surveys the potential for world disarmament, everything from “hand grenades to hydrogen bombs”. He argues that the instability and dangers in international affairs should provide an impetus for disarmament – a direct challenge to the five nuclear-armed members of the UN Security Council, who typically argue that peace should be established before disarmament can be seriously entertained.
To tackle this line of thinking, Guterres poses a simple question: do the leaders of the nuclear powers agree with Reagan and Gorbachev that nuclear war by definition cannot be won, and therefore must not be fought?
Guterres’ agenda could not be more timely, and never has the UN secretariat produced such a substantive document on disarmament. If the whole of the UN infrastructure integrated disarmament into its work with the support of its member states, that could change the game profoundly. But will the member states heed Guterres’s call? Will civil and political society rally to his banner, or simply remain on the sidelines and wring their hands while nothing is done?
A rusty toolbox
Some critics point to the Guterres plan’s lack of detailed technical action points, and many will hesitate to accept its ambition to be truly comprehensive. But it should be understood as a rallying cry, an attempt to bring together different constituencies which don’t usually work together.
Missing this opportunity will further reinforce the status quo – and that in turn might have dire consequences. It’s hard to think of a scenario where the militarisation of international relations contributes to stablity and security rather than making the world less safe.
Guterres’s agenda is a handbook for those who want to find a way out of the gathering chaos. Disarmament progress in tense geopolitical times is not impossible. In previous times of crisis, rival superpowers have taken steps to reduce arsenals, increase transparency, lower alert levels and mitigate risks. If today’s major players wait indefinitely for security conditions to be “ripe” before pursuing disarmament and arms control, the resulting lack of dialogue will only make the climate worse.
Disarmament talks need not start from scratch. Many of the tools are tried and tested, and have simply fallen out of use, with past agreements long overdue for implementation and negotiations on strategic arms stalled. If nations fail to honour their existing commitments, they will not only put the entire disarmament and arms control regime at risk, but also damage the mechanisms designed to defuse tensions and foster dialogue on sensitive security issues.
It’s time to return to the common ground on which we stood in the past, the ground where world-changing multilateral and bilateral treaties were struck. Notwithstanding the events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the UN-sanctioned inspection regimes provide a sound technical blueprint for verified elimination of weapons of mass destruction. The OSCE’s various agreements, confidence- and security-building measures, and “open skies” regime provide an institutional platform for the exchange of information, verification and regulation of conventional weaponry.
While they certainly need updating, the precision tools needed for disarmament and conventional arms control are readily available. What’s needed now is the political impetus to use them. The Guterres agenda offers an optimistic way forward at a deeply pessimistic moment; it must be taken seriously.