The independent resource on global security

10. Conventional arms control and the regulation of inhumane weapons


Overview, Ian Davis

I. Multilateral regulation of inhumane weapons and other conventional weapons of humanitarian concern, Ian Davis

II. Explosive weapons and the protection of civilians during the Russia–Ukraine and Israel–Hamas wars, Ian Davis

III. Arms control, non-proliferation and use of missiles, Kolja Brockmann

IV. The end of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Alexander Graef

V. The Global Framework for Through-life Conventional Ammunition Management, Giovanna Maletta and Selma Mustafić

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

The main multilateral treaty for regulating inhumane weapons is the 1981 Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Convention, alongside separate conventions on anti-personnel mines (APMs) and cluster munitions. A small number of states that have chosen to retain, develop or use weapons seen as inhumane by others have repeatedly stalled progress on strengthening the CCW regime. Other categories of conventional weapon that raise humanitarian concerns are dealt with by other legal and political processes. For example, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) is addressed by a political declaration adopted in 2022. Notably, in 2023 a new Global Framework for Through-life Conventional Ammunition Management was established, which closed a regulatory gap in this domain.


The wars in Gaza and Ukraine

The need to protect civilians from EWIPA and other inhumane weapons was underscored in 2023 by the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. Clear and concerning misuse of explosive weapons and other violations of international humanitarian law can be identified in the conduct of both wars. The extensive use of cluster munitions in Ukraine by both Russian and Ukrainian forces, as well as new transfers of these weapons to Ukraine by the United States, overshadowed the completion of the destruction in 2023 of all stockpiled cluster munitions by states parties to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Most of the documented use of APMs in Ukraine has been attributed to Russian forces, although allegations of limited use by Ukraine were under investigation in 2023.


Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 broke numerous laws of war, while much of Israel’s subsequent bombing and shelling of Gaza appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate. Senior United Nations officials had already concluded by the end of the year that war crimes had been committed by both sides, while a group of UN experts warned of the risk of genocide in Gaza.


Refocusing attention on arms control

The protection of civilians demands not only compliance with fundamental principles of targeting, but also the application of limits on the types of weapon and ammunition that may be employed in armed conflict. Yet conventionally armed missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) are largely unregulated and the prospects for future arms control agreements remain bleak.


New efforts are needed to preserve multilateral conventional arms control achievements and spread norms that reduce the human cost of weapons. This will require states to move away from overly securitized and militarized approaches to peace, and towards arms control treaties framed around core principles of trust, solidarity and universality. 

Dr Ian Davis , Kolja Brockmann, Alexander Graef, Giovanna Maletta, Selma Mustafić, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman