Weapons

Acoustic weapons

Acoustic weapons aim to use the propagation of sound (mostly ultrasound, low frequencies or infrasound deployed at high levels). Although a few acoustic devices exist today that could be used as weapons, the potential for weaponization of acoustic devices has likely been overstated. Often branded as ‘non-lethal’ or ‘less lethal’, acoustic devices are open to the same questions and criticisms levelled against other technologies given that label, including concern over a lack of reliable, scientifically sound and peer-reviewed data on the specifications of acoustic devices and their effects.

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

Acoustic weapons and “remaining vigilant” on science, technology and weaponisation

Autonomous weapons

The integration of advanced computational techniques into weapons systems poses a host of legal, ethical and moral concerns. New legally-binding rules must be developed to preserve ethical standards and enable meaningful human control over systems that apply force on the basis of sensors.

Autonomous weapons: targeting people should be prohibited

‘Target profiles’ as a basis for rules relating to autonomy in weapons systems

Biological weapons and toxins

Biological and toxin weapons are bacteria, diseases and poisons that are produced and spread for military purposes, including to kill and incapacitate adversaries. They are prohibited for use under the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

Patterns in participation: the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, 2010-14

Syria and the significance of global norms on weapons

Cluster munitions

Cluster munitions are ground- or air-launched explosive weapons consisting of a container that opens up in mid-air and scatters a high number of smaller submunitions over a wide area. Cluster munitions have indiscriminate area effects at the time of their use and leave behind high numbers of unexploded submunitions that pose a danger to people long after a conflict has ended. Cluster munitions are prohibited under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The value of ‘victim assistance’ in international agreements on civilian protection and weapons policy

Framing harms: Analysing responses in international commitments addressing armed violence

Directed energy weapons

DEW can be broadly defined as systems that produce a beam of concentrated electromagnetic energy or atomic or subatomic particles, used as a direct means to harm. DEW currently take three primary forms: lasers, millimetre- or microwave radiation technologies, and particle beams. Certain DEW may have the potential to circumvent existing legal restrictions and prohibitions on weapons and there is considerable uncertainty about their environmental and health effects.

New publications: Science, technology and weaponisation

Science, technology and weaponisation

Drones

Drones are remotely-operated aircraft used for surveillance and, increasingly, for missile strikes. The use of armed drones raises wider concerns around extrajudicial killings, the lack of casualty recording, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the increasing use of remote-controlled weapons.

Swarms: networked, mobile, and autonomous

Overview of statements on drones at UNGA First Committee 2018, and mapping of international activity

Explosive weapons

The use of explosive weapons - bombs, artillery shells, rockets, etc. - cities, towns, villages and similar populated areas causes broad, substantial and ongoing harm. The use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in a populated area poses an unacceptably high risk of civilian harm. Parties to conflict should amend their rules of engagement, policies and practice to prevent and address the harm caused by explosive weapons. States should commit to avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.

Seventy-one states call for action on impact of explosive weapons in joint statement to UN General Assembly

Turkey’s operations in north-eastern Syria: The devastating impact of explosive weapons

Hypersonic weapons

‘Hypersonic’ is generally understood to refer to flight within the atmosphere at speeds above Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). Hypersonic weapons are attracting increasing attention following reports of successful prototype testing. Hypersonic weapons are likely to increase the risk of pre-emptive strikes, accidents, miscalculations, conflict instability and escalation due to their potential to shorten decision times and the nuclear ambiguity surrounding them, among other reasons. Their introduction risks undermining long-standing arms control and disarmament efforts.

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

Hypersonic weapons: a threat to our common security

Incendiary weapons

Incendiary weapons, such as napalm, white phosphorous and flamethrowers, use fire and burning to destroy materiel and kill personnel. They generally have area effects, meaning that they strike civilians and combatants alike when used in populated areas.

An urgent priority for humanity: lethal autonomous weapons systems must be prohibited

Statement to CCW, 13 Nov 2014

Landmines

Landmines are weapons that are placed or scattered on or under the ground and are designed to kill or injure people or destroy vehicles that come into contact with them. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Anti-vehicle mines are subject to minimal restrictions under the CCW.

The value of ‘victim assistance’ in international agreements on civilian protection and weapons policy

New paper: Humanitarian mine action and protecting education – making links through the Safe Schools Declaration

Nanoweapons

The prefix ‘nano’ means one thousand millionth of a metre. At nanoscale, matter exhibits different properties than at macroscale and chemical, biological and physical properties merge. This has potential applications in the military and security sectors (garments designed to increase soldier survivability, camouflage against thermal detection, new weapons, etc). There is a concern that certain nanomaterials could fall outside of existing weapons control instruments and lead to novel and poorly understood mechanisms of harm and new ways of applying force.

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

New publications: Science, technology and weaponisation

New weapon technologies

The continuous process of development in science and technology (S&T) has implications for the emergence of new practices and technologies of armed violence, including new weapons. States have an obligation under Article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions to review the legality of new weapons, means and methods of warfare.

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

Swarms: networked, mobile, and autonomous

Nuclear weapons

Nuclear weapons have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences, rendering their possession by any state fundamentally unacceptable. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, agreed in 2017, responds to these facts and creates an international framework for action.

The value of ‘victim assistance’ in international agreements on civilian protection and weapons policy

The Disarmament Impact Group’s gendered nuclear politics

Small arms

Small arms are weapons that can be carried by individual infantry soldiers – essentially firearms. Gun violence is widespread in many countries and causes high levels of deaths and injuries. Hundreds of millions of small arms are in circulation worldwide and the lack of controls on transfer, possession and use fuels armed violence.

States must address threat to civilian protection posed by small arms and light weapons

UN Review Conference on small arms: recording casualties and recognising victims’ rights

Swarms

Central to the idea of swarms in a military context is the deployment of myriad, small, mobile, dispersed, autonomous units that are interconnected. Several militaries are working towards distributed, collaborative systems of interconnected robots that can move and act as an integrated entity capable of performing autonomously with only limited human intervention. Swarms implicated in the detection, selection and attack of targets raise acute concerns about human control over the use of force. The emergent behaviour of swarms and the proposition that a single operator could control a potentially large swarm heightens pressing concerns at the centre of the debate on autonomous weapons.

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

Swarms: networked, mobile, and autonomous

Toxic remnants of war

Toxic remnants of war are caused by the use of hazardous materials in conflict. This can include contamination from uranium weapons, chemical agents, dumped fuel and explosives. Toxic remnants of war may have significant negative effects on people and the environment, including over the long term.

Global call for bold action on the environment, peace and security

The value of ‘victim assistance’ in international agreements on civilian protection and weapons policy

Processes and Policy

Armed violence

Armed violence is the use or threatened use of weapons to inflict injury, death or psychosocial harm. It includes violence from crime to conflict. Armed violence prevention has been the subject of international diplomatic initiatives.

Framing harms: Analysing responses in international commitments addressing armed violence

UN Review Conference on small arms: recording casualties and recognising victims’ rights

Arms Trade Treaty

States, civil society and international organisations have been involved in a process to develop an international treaty to govern the arms trade, resulting in the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013.

UK-manufactured arms and harm from explosive weapons in Yemen

UK turns back on UN protection of civilians

Casualty recording

The transparent and systematic recording of every casualty of armed violence as an individual is crucial from a perspective of human dignity. Casualty recording has also played a critical role in processes to curb weapons.

Data Collection and the Safe Schools Declaration: Building Upon Current Practice

The British Medical Journal on Syria, casualty recording and bombing in populated areas

CCW

The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is an international framework for banning and restricting weapons that are indiscriminate or cause excessive injury. Rules are added through individual protocols, of which there are five, including a ban on blinding lasers and a restriction on the use of incendiary weapons. The CCW's consensus decision-making has made ambitious humanitarian results difficult to achieve.

Autonomous weapons: targeting people should be prohibited

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

Cyber

“Cyber security” constitutes a broad spectrum of activity and concerns that may hinder individuals, private industry, society, and governments. In approaching these issues, it is important to be wary of responses that overinflate the threat, and in doing so promote militarisation and facilitate escalation.

NGO statement to the UNGA First Committee on cyberspace and human security

Briefing for states attending UN General Assembly First Committee on Cyber

Disarmament and development

Disarmament is a global concern, but global representation at multilateral disarmament forums is far from equal. Article 36 undertook a project in 2015-16 to map and analyse low-income country participation across a number of processes.

Global call for bold action on the environment, peace and security

Disarmament as a means to build peace

Gender and disarmament

Gender and disarmament intersect in several ways. Gendered discourses on violence and weapons can affect how disarmament issues are addressed, whilst women, men, boys and girls can also be exposed to different patterns of violence, and affected differently by specific weapons and practices.

The Disarmament Impact Group’s gendered nuclear politics

Disarmament as a means to build peace

Protecting Education from Attack

Attacks on educational institutions, personnel and people accessing education, as well as the military use of schools are a civilian protection issue and may violate international humanitarian and criminal law, as well as the right to education. The Safe Schools Declaration is an international instrument addressing these issues.

The value of ‘victim assistance’ in international agreements on civilian protection and weapons policy

Framing harms: Analysing responses in international commitments addressing armed violence

Protection of civilians

The United Nations Security Council periodically holds an open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, and the UN Secretary General issues a report on the protection of civilians every year. Topics discussed include casualty recording, displaced persons, attacks on civilians, including schools and hospitals and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Seventy-one states call for action on impact of explosive weapons in joint statement to UN General Assembly

Iraq/US-Led Coalition: Weapons Choice Endangers Mosul Civilians

S&T in the context of disarmament

New weapon technologies and novel military applications of science and technology (S&T) have implications for multilateral disarmament objectives. They require fresh consideration by disarmament policy-makers, with the dominant narrative about S&T currently being spun in that context of disarmament suffering from weaknesses and blind spots

Envisioning sustainable security – The evolving story of Science and Technology in the context of disarmament

Swarms: networked, mobile, and autonomous

UK Parliamentary

Article 36 previously provided the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Weapons and the Protection of Civilians, which worked to promote practices, policies and laws that better prevent civilian harm from weapons.

Banned cluster munitions, UN blacklisting and £1bn of explosive weapon sales

Roundtable briefing on UN nuclear disarmament talks

University of Liverpool collaboration

Article 36 is collaborating with ethnomethodologists at the University of Liverpool on a project looking at the changing character of law in war, and the role that legal considerations play in decisions around targeting and the use of force

Briefing on drones for states attending UN General Assembly First Committee 2018

Article – Targeting Legality: The Armed Drone as a Socio-technical and Socio-Legal System

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