MEIG Highlights, Latest News 31 mai 2021

Highlight 20/2021 – A Different Perspective on Arms Control: from a Quantitative to a Qualitative Approach

Gustavo Rodriguez Nunez, 31 May 2021

The 20th Century, witnessed an unprecedented use of Weapons of Mass Destruction which led to the International Community having to create various treaties and conventions such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention to control the creation and the usage of such weapons.

These treaties strive for a quantitative approach by selecting a control unit that is part of the weapon’s system. These control units can identify parts such as warheads; delivery vehicles such as  missiles or torpedoes; or platforms such as aircrafts and tanks.

Previously, these technologies, such as nuclear technology, were created and controlled by governments for military purposes. Today, the private sector is an active participant in the creation and use of new technologies, like 3D-printing, drones and artificial intelligence, for civil purposes.  

In this regard, the adoption of these technologies from governments to produce weapons like armed drones or 3D-printing bombs demands their control. However, the nature of these technologies adds a new variable that not only falls on hardware, by defining a unit control, but also a software variable. Therefore, the challenge to control these emerging technologies is to tackle the qualitative approach by going inside the system and analyzing thousands of programming lines and, to do so, the participation of the scientific sector is relevant.  

Given all these aspects, it is important to note the role that arms control plays in international governance. Currently, there are several resolutions adopted by some international organizations, such as the European Union with the resolution 2014/2567 on the use of armed drones outside of the international legal framework. Additionally, 2020 witnessed the creation of Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, which is composed of 19 member States, including the European Union, to foster the adoption of trustworthy AI. Subsequently, the International Communication Union is fostering the use of Artificial Intelligence within the Artificial Intelligence for Good Summit to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Emerging technologies represent a benefit to human development, by accelerating the SDG’s for instance, therefore its supervision is mandatory for its use. Although much is still left to do, the role of the scientific sector cannot be undermined, as its endeavors to find solutions and to move from quantitative to the qualitative arms control approach represent an advantage for the arms control sector.

Gustavo RODRIGUEZ NUNEZ, A Different Perspective on Arms Control: from a Quantitative to a Qualitative Approach, Highlight 20/2021, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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