- Armament and disarmament
- Conflict, peace and security
- Peace and development
- SIPRI Yearbook
- News and Events
Outer space is critical to both national and international security. SIPRI’s work analyses developments and different dimensions of space security in the context of strategic armament dynamics. Grounded in international law, SIPRI’s analyses on space security include the governance of lunar and cislunar security, the nexus between space and export controls, and policy measures to ban direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapons tests.
Through fact-based analyses and multi-stakeholder engagement, SIPRI aims to inform ongoing discussions to identify trends and impacts from the perspective of conflict-prevention, working towards equitable, sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space.
Overview, Ian Davis
I. Multilateral regulation of inhumane weapons and other conventional weapons of humanitarian concern, Ian Davis and Giovanna Maletta
II. Intergovernmental efforts to address the challenges posed by autonomous weapon systems, Laura Bruun
III. The withdrawal of Russia from the Treaty on Open Skies, Alexander Graef
IV. International transparency in arms procurement and military expenditure as confidence- building measures, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman
V. Cyberspace and the malicious use of information and communications technology, Allison Pytlak
VI. Developments in space security, Nivedita Raju
The main multilateral treaty for regulating inhumane weapons—such as incendiary weapons, explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), cluster munitions, land-mines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war—is the 1981 Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Convention, alongside the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Convention and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. While progress in implementing the latter two treaties continued in 2021, a handful of states once again obstructed advances in most of the agenda at the Sixth Review Conference of the CCW Convention.
After many years of slow progress to address the humanitarian harm of EWIPA within the CCW framework, a separate process led by Ireland is aiming to develop a political declaration on their use. After delays related to Covid-19, the consultation process restarted in 2021 and a political declaration is expected to be adopted in 2022.
Efforts to regulate autonomous weapon systems (AWS) have been led since 2017 by a group of governmental experts (GGE). The GGE’s discussions in 2021 followed two tracks: on legal, ethical and military aspects of the development and use of AWS; and on AWS governance options. However, fundamental disagreements prevented the GGE from submitting substantive recommendations to the CCW review conference on these two tracks, as well as on a future GGE man-date. The review conference eventually adopted a less ambitious mandate for the GGE, allowing the discussions on AWS to continue within the CCW framework in 2022. But the lack of substantive progress may lead some states to seek alternative paths to achieving a legally binding instrument.
International efforts to control the malicious use of information and communications technology continued to be hindered by differing state preferences and ongoing geopolitical tensions. Nonetheless, 2021 was generally a productive year for cyber governance. The main state-driven efforts continued in 2021 within two parallel United Nations processes: a GGE and an open-ended working group (OEWG).
Developments in space security in 2021 centred on three issues: continued development of offensive counterspace capabilities (with new reported tests by China and Russia); increased interest in lunar activities, including the development of two distinct international partnerships (one led by the United States and the other by China and Russia); and widespread support for new discussions on responsible behaviour in space in the UN General Assembly, including agreement to convene a consensus-based OEWG to move discussions forward.
Overview, Laura Bruun, Ian Davis, Nivedita Raju, Luke Richards, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman [PDF]
I. Global and regional instruments for conventional arms control, Ian Davis [PDF]
II. The group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems, Laura Bruun [PDF]
III. Cyberspace and the malicious use of information and communications technology, Luke Richards [PDF]
IV. Developments in space security, 2020, Nivedita Raju [PDF]
V. The withdrawal of the United States from the Treaty on Open Skies, Ian Davis [PDF]
VI. International transparency in arms procurement and military expenditure as confidence-building measures, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman [PDF]
Conventional arms control by states usually falls within one of two broad approaches: limiting or prohibiting weapons considered to be inhumane or indiscriminate; or regulating and managing the procurement, production, transfer and trade of weapons, with a view to preventing their destabilizing accumulation, diversion or misuse. The first category includes the 1981 Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Convention, the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine (APM) Convention and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The second category includes the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty.
Some types of weapon may not be covered by a specific treaty. In such a case, states may consider a new treaty or—as with lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS)—extension of the coverage of an existing regime. In cases where this approach has failed, states may consider alternative, less formal approaches—as in the case of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). In more complex cases, such as the regulation of cyberspace or activity in space, the most appropriate approach may be the subject of intense debate.
As a complement to controlling arms, international security can be improved by states acting to build mutual confidence. This can be through relatively simple multilateral mechanisms for sharing information on arms procurement or military expenditure. However, the existing instruments are in urgent need of revitalization as participation is low and the data provided is limited in utility.
While new uses of APMs by states are now extremely rare, use by non-state armed groups in conflicts, and especially of victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), is a growing problem. APMs were used by such groups in at least six states between mid 2019 and October 2020: Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Libya, Myanmar and Pakistan. Since the APM Convention entered into force, 31 states parties have completed clearance of all APMs from their territory, with Chile and the United Kingdom doing so in 2020.
The most recent use of cluster munitions occurred in October 2020 during the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan (both non-parties to the CCM). There was also continued use of cluster munitions in Syria in 2019–20.
International concern is growing over the use of EWIPA. Little progress has been made on this issue within the framework of the CCW Convention in recent years due to the lack of consensus and a handful of states obstructing advances in the convention’s agenda in this area. In 2020 the difficulties in these negotiations were aggravated by the inability to meet face-to-face because of the Covid-19 pandemic—which had an impact in all the conventional arms control discussions during the year. The lack of progress on EWIPA within the CCW regime has led some states to explore a separate process. Led by Ireland, this process aims to develop a political declaration to address the humanitarian harm arising from the use of EWIPA. Discussion was slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but further consultations are expected to result in the adoption of a declaration in 2021.
Efforts to regulate LAWS within the framework of the CCW Convention started in 2014, and have since 2017 been led by an open-ended group of governmental experts (GGE). In 2020 these discussions largely centred on identifying key areas of convergence in order to inform the sixth review conference of the CCW Convention, scheduled to take place in 2021. However, as well as being affected by pandemic-related restrictions, discussions were hampered by persistent fundamental disagreements over the outcome and mandate of the GGE, notably between Western delegations, the Non-Aligned Movement and Russia. This raised serious questions as to what the GGE will be capable of achieving beyond the 11 guiding principles adopted in 2019.
In the context of ongoing geopolitical tensions around the security of information and communications technology (ICT), dialogue on the governance of ICT and cyber norms has taken place at multiple levels. The main state-driven efforts continued in 2020 within two parallel United Nations processes: an Open-ended Working Group and a GGE. However, despite changes to the digital landscape caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that have increased the need for action, the differing interests of states and normative preferences have hindered these international efforts to control the malicious use of ICT. In the absence of consensus, a legally binding agreement seems unlikely in the near future.
Despite the growing risk of a conflict in outer space, international discussions on both security and safety aspects of space activities remain blocked. Destabilizing issues that arose in 2020 included controversial rendezvous and proximity operations and alleged anti-satellite tests by Russia, as well as the adoption of unilateral space policies by the United States. However, in December 2020 the UN General Assembly adopted a promising new initiative proposed by the UK on norms for responsible behaviour in space. It is hoped that this will lead to a return to multilateral regulatory approaches for space security.