The independent resource on global security

13. Conventional arms control and regulation of new weapon technologies


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.


Autonomous weapon systems

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.


Governance of cyberspace

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

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. 

Dr Ian Davis , Giovanna Maletta, Laura Bruun, Pieter D. Wezeman, Siemon T. Wezeman and Nivedita Raju
Associated research area