Article 36 science and technology statement at the UN CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties, 24 Nov 2017
Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, 22-24 November 2017 – Science and Technology
Statement delivered by Richard Moyes
Thank you Chair,
The rapid pace of innovation and development across diverse areas of science and technology will have profound implications for our societies, and for our collective security. These innovations and developments can bring both benefits and risks.
Whilst new technologies may provide benefits, novel or poorly understood ways of causing harm may challenge existing instruments, values, and norms – including the principle of humanity, and the prohibitions against indiscriminate attacks, or against inflicting superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. For example, directed energy weapons may use microwaves or other mechanisms to cause severe pain, and as they are developed further they may be engineered to cause potentially deadly burns. Certain developments in nanotechnologies and materials science could negatively impact disarmament and arms control, for example through the creation of new weapons – such as metal-free firearms or miniaturized weapons – that may escape existing verification techniques. Such developments would raise questions we need to address collectively.
The potential military and security applications of scientific and technological advances should be assessed at an early stage. This could:
- provide the foundations for a common understanding of the environmental, ethical, health, legal and security implications of novel technologies or practices of violence;
- It could bolster mutual confidence by increasing transparency, and help States develop necessary policies and practical measures;
- And it should allow the High Contracting Parties to influence the development of certain technologies and help ensure they progress in a direction we collectively agree is desirable.
Establishing processes to regularly, systematically, and effectively review these developments has been a key concern in the field of biological and chemical weapons control for many years. And in October this year, the UN’s First Committee passed a resolution, introduced by India, recognising the need for a “system-wide assessment of the potential impact of developments in science and technology on international security and disarmament”. The UN Secretary-General was mandated to submit a report on the issue to the UN General Assembly next fall – by keeping consideration of developments in science and technology on its agenda, the CCW will be ideally positioned to examine the report’s findings within the framework of this Convention
Last year’s review conference acknowledged the role the CCW can play in “monitoring ongoing and new developments in new weapons, means and methods of war”, and decided to consider how relevant science and technology developments can be addressed within the framework of the Convention so as to ensure its “continued relevance, integrity and adequacy”. We now encourage states to include this topic on the agenda for next year to keep it under consideration. We would also encourage states to convene an informal meeting in 2018. This would provide the opportunity to exchange views and survey the technologies relevant to the CCW, as well as discuss issues relating to process for the proposed periodical review.
The CCW is a cornerstone of the international community’s work to limit the suffering caused by certain conventional weapons. And with its open architecture and flexible agenda, the Convention has a unique capacity to give consideration to new developments in science and technology relevant to weapons. By proactively considering the implications of new technologies, the CCW can fulfil its mandate and contribute to the upholding of international law.