Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London dp27@soas.ac.uk

Disarmament that Saves Lives

Opportunities and Challenges drawn from the Panel Discussion, “Building on the Secretary General’s Disarmament Agenda”

(Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy at SOAS University of London, UNOG, 12th February 2019)

by Marc Finaud, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP)

  1. Relevance of the Secretary-General’s Agenda in the Light of the Current Context

This is probably the chapter of the Secretary-General’s Agenda that should resonate the most in many countries because of the severe casualties and fatalities inflicted every year mainly on civilian populations in conflicts (50 to 60,000 killed) but also by armed violence in peaceful societies (half a million killed). International humanitarian law, a common heritage of humanity, is applicable in armed conflict but is grossly disregarded by both state and non-state actors that are parties to such conflicts.

In recent years, we have witnessed, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Ukraine, how explosive weapons such as artillery, rockets, mortars, air-dropped bombs or surface-to-surface ballistic missiles are used indiscriminately in populated areas. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are used by terrorist armed groups or criminals but also regular forces, as we have seen in the case or barrel bombs in Syria, against civilians, humanitarian workers or UN peacekeeping forces.  Armed drones are increasingly used also both by state and non-state combatants for targeted strikes without real oversight or accountability.

Thanks to the civil society initiatives of the Ottawa Treaty banning antipersonnel landmines and the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions, the number of victims caused by such indiscriminate weapons has dropped dramatically over the last 20 years (from some 20,000 to 8,000 per year). But dozens of countries remain affected by them.

On a global scale, the world is awash with conventional armaments. Military expenditure, which includes both equipment and manpower, continues to increase every year to reach over 1,700 billion dollars. If for most states, such spending is below the world average of 2.5 percent of GDP, for at least 34 countries, it is above, sometimes 5 or 10 times more. The 5 top spending countries spend 60 percent of the world’s military expenditure. Three of them (the US, China, and Russia) are also among the top 6 arms exporters (along with France, the UK and Germany) while two of them (India and Saudi Arabia) are the two main arms importers.

Apart from heavy weapon systems, over one billion small arms and light weapons are in circulation worldwide and 14 billion pieces of ammunition are produced every year. If the international community has finally decided to regulate the international trade in conventional arms with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), illicit trafficking in firearms continues on a global scale: 80 to 90 percent of trafficked weapons originate from licit transactions, diverted by criminals or corrupt officials.

2. Ways to Move the Agenda Forward

Some security situations are conducive to conventional arms build-up, and sometimes exploited by defence industry and arms exporters. So it is unlikely that arms control or disarmament will succeed if nothing is done about conflict prevention or resolution. However, even in times of transition or in situations of tensions, the international community has designed tools that can reduce the impact of weapons on civilian populations or prevent military escalation. It is today a paradox that Europe, which showed the example to the world at the end of the Cold War in negotiating and implementing far-reaching confidence- and security building measures and conventional disarmament, is now unable to respond to its security challenges by concluding new agreements while the international community, in the UN Disarmament Commission, has finally recognized the relevance and importance of such measures for regional security and stability. This is all the more crucial in areas where conventional conflict may escalate into nuclear war. The relevant governments should also listen again to the voice of civil society and academia and look carefully at the recommendations of groups such as the European Leadership Network or the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, and of course the SCRAP Project!

The actions proposed by the Secretary-General in his Agenda on conventional arms control and disarmament make perfect sense, and if they are followed, there is no doubt that they will give existing processes a useful impulse and create safer conditions on the ground: avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas; share policy and practice to protect civilians; introduce casualty recording in UN operations; establish civilian harm mitigation cells; strengthen inter-agency coordination on IEDs; common standards for armed drones; a dedicated trust fund on small arms; build understanding on the impact of arms on conflict management; secure excessive and poorly maintained stockpiles; and regional dialogue to build confidence on military matters.

3. Linkages and Gaps in the Current Disarmament Processes

The main challenge ahead lies in the silo approach, very familiar to the arms control community in Geneva. Some progress has been achieved in allowing some dialogue among stakeholders, whether governmental or not, thanks to meetings organised in Geneva by key actors such as UNIDIR, UNODA, the Geneva Disarmament Platform, Small Arms Survey, DCAF, GICHD, or the GCSP. Those meetings revealed the extent of the need for comprehensive approaches, inter-agency coordination, and the development of common good practices. A good example could be followed: the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform that federates since 2006 all the Geneva-based actors involved in one way or another in peacebuilding activities and that established a bridge with the New York-based UN Peacebuilding Commission and Fund.

In the vast area of conventional arms control, the Geneva-based treaty bodies (Implementation Support Units of the Ottawa Treaty and Oslo Convention as well as the CCW, the Secretariat of the ATT, UNMAS) could work more collaboratively among themselves and with governments, research institutions and civil society. They could create more institutional and practical bridges with other organisations working in similar fields such as the ICRC in Geneva, INTERPOL in Lyon, the World Customs Organization in Brussels, the International Maritime Organization in London, and the Vienna-based organizations (UNODC, the Hague Code of Conduct, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the OSCE).

The task of pulling bureaucracies out of their comfort zone may seem daunting but past achievements clear show that it is feasible: apart from the Geneva Peacebuilding Initiative, let’s mention the International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS), the UN Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS), the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG), the Ammunition Safety Management (ASM) method, Physical Protection and Stockpile Management (PPSM) standards, or the Montreux Document on private military and security companies. All those achievements resulted from wide-ranging consultations and negotiations with all the relevant stakeholders.

The SCRAP Treaty

Ahead of our panel discussion at the Palais-des-Nations on February 12th, we present the first draft of the SCRAP Treaty.

The Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation is designed to implement the recent foundational initiative of the UN Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda. The SCRAP Treaty takes the most detailed provisions of existing agreements such as US – Russia, NATO – Russia, the Iraq WMD inspection regime, the CFE, Open Skies, the Kinshasa agreement on small arms and the inter-American convention on transparency, and weaves them into a global scheme to forward disarmament for the common good of humanity.

This SCRAP Treaty is a precision tool for enforceable global weapons control to be placed in the hands of movements, NGOs, Parliaments and governments.  It is intended to use disarmament and arms control to save lives, uphold international law, and to allow development and human security to flourish.

Read the first draft of the SCRAP Treaty below, as it will be presented to ambassadors from all over the world in Geneva on February 12th.

Regional Initiatives, the DPRK and Iran, and the Platinum Standard.

By Pierce Corden

January 19th, 2019


In considering denuclearizing the DPRK and efforts to address the Iranian situation and the JCPOA, steps can be taken to strengthen security in the regions where the states are located:  Northeast Asia and the Middle East.  Such steps would support denuclearizing  Korea and ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.  The initiatives would be timely in view of ongoing diplomatic efforts involving both the Korean peninsula and the Middle East.

The DPRK could solidify its halt to nuclear-weapon testing by signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).  Ratification by China (the ROK, Japan and the Russian Federation have already ratified) would be a strong impetus to the DPRK in its decision-making.  US CTBT ratification would be an important supporting step, and would constitute a reciprocal measure as called for by the DPRK.  Upon verified destruction of its nuclear weapons and placement of its nuclear materials under IAEA safeguards, the DPRK could return to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.  Given China’s role in the region, it is best placed to initiate CTBT action.  As CTBT entry into force cannot take place until all eight currently lacking ratifications occur, China has no legal reason to await US ratification.   Already the Vienna-based CTBT Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS) can provide considerable assurance against resumed nuclear testing by the DPRK.  An in-force CTBT would also provide the possibility of on-site inspections.

Iran has signed but not ratified the CTBT.  Doing so would be a significant addition to Iran’s NPT and JCPOA undertakings not to become a nuclear-weapon-possessing state.  Saudi Arabia should sign and ratify the CTBT, and both states should fully integrate their International Monitoring System (IMS) stations into the Vienna-based verification system.  Egypt and Israel, whose ratifications are also necessary for CTBT entry into force, should do so, and Egypt should build its IMS station.  In addition to the vital role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in monitoring Iranian dual-use facilities and activities, the PTS will continue to bring its impressive monitoring capabilities to bear to support regional security.

Agreement by these states, and by other Arab League members, to engage promptly in negotiations to make the Middle East a zone free of mass-destruction weapons and ballistic missiles would further strengthen regional security, as well as support the Nonproliferation Treaty.  The free-zone undertaking was a component of the 1995 decision to extend the NPT indefinitely.  Resumed efforts would be timely, within the framework of the NPT Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference (2020 is the fiftieth anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force), and in parallel meetings including Israel.

Were states in the two regions to increase their investments in renewable energy and energy storage, the need to pursue dual-use nuclear technologies for electric power – enrichment, reactors and reprocessing – would be eliminated.  Much effort has been devoted to persuading states who seek to generate power with nuclear reactors to forego on international security grounds national enrichment and reprocessing, a policy known as the “gold standard.”  The economics of renewable energy and storage have progressed to where moving entirely to renewable sources is feasible.   Both regions are well situated: the 37th parallel is the northern border of Arizona, known for abundant sunshine.  It passes just south of the Korean DMZ, and through Iran.   In Northeast Asia cloud cover could require some additional investment compared to the Middle East, which could be justified on grounds of international security.  The nuclear energy “gold standard” has significant security advantages; renewable energy and storage would be the “platinum standard.”

Pierce S. Corden



Pierce Corden is a veteran US arms negotiator, and Scrap Committee member.

SCRAP at the 139th IPU Assembly: Continuing Dialogue of Disarmament

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 Centre International de Conférences, Genève, hosted the 139th assembly

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.

Panellists Ms. Kersten Vignard, Ambassador Janis Karklins and Ms. Silvia Mercogliano address the representatives at the IPU in an assembly of the Standing Committee for Peace and International Security, chaired by Dr. Dan Plesch

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.

Reflections on US involvement in the Saudi-Yemen War: America and the ATT

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.



Liautaud, Alexa. 2018. “White House acknowledges the U.S. is at war in seven countries”. Vice, (accessed October 15th 2018), https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/a3ywd5/white-house-acknowledges-the-us-is-at-war-in-seven-countries

Kimball, Daryl G. 2016. “The Arms Trade Treaty At a Glance”. Arms Control Association, (accessed October 15th 2018), https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/arms_trade_treaty

Bazzi, Mohamad. 2018. “The war in Yemen is disastrous. America is only making things worse”. The Guardian, (accessed October 15th 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/11/trump-yemen-saudi-arabi-war-us-involvement-worsening-crisis

  1. “A UN treaty to regulate the global arms trade has little impact”. The Economist, (accessed October 15th 2018), https://www.economist.com/international/2018/08/18/a-un-treaty-to-regulate-the-global-arms-trade-has-little-impact

The Editorial Board. 2018. “Why Are American Troops in the Yemen War?”. The New York Times, (accessed October 15th 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/opinion/american-troops-yemen.html


#IPU139 – Discussion Points and Livestream

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).

SCRAP at the 139th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly

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.

The panel will discuss comprehensive disarmament and non-proliferation, including United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ ground-breaking global disarmament strategy “Securing Our Common Future”. The agenda draws on Dr. Plesch’s work with Kevin Miletic and SCRAP, featured in the UNODA’s 28th occasional paper, entitled “Rethinking General and Complete Disarmament in the 21st Century

Like SCRAP on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/scrapweapons/and follow us on twitter (@SCRAPweapons) for updates, and for a livestream from Geneva of the discussion from 1:30pm UK time on Monday 15th.

Videos of previous IPU assemblies can be seen here.

Future Weapons Technology: Why the analogy of nuclear cannot be applied to cyberspace, and how to respond to new logic

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.

Interview with SCRAP Alumnus David Franco

Former SCRAP Project Manager David Franco shares his experience with the project. Photo credit: Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab

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.

SCRAP Needs You

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.