Disarmament Committee

Eliminating killing robots such as but not limited to battle drones and automatic weapon systems

by Hannah Gross


The advantages of using Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWSs) are very versatile. As Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command said, “Machines don't get tired. They don't close their eyes. They don't hide under trees when it rains and they don't talk to their friends”. Basically, there is no human error involved in rote tasks such as the surveillance of a certain area. On top of that, they are also able to be aware of many more factors than humans, for example they can keep things such as the status of weapons, the fuel supply, the location of enemies as well as allies, and many more while still performing a complicated tasks, such as following or targeting individuals. And, when it comes down to the task of actually taking the shot targeting an individual they are much more precise, and are not vulnerable to human error induced by human emotions, for example a real live pilot might be very stressed, whereas AWSs are not prone to emotions such as stress. Also, Autonomous Weapon Systems are much cheaper to build, and can be produced much faster than pilots are trained, since AWSs do not need to go through the vigorous training program that pilots need to.


However, there are also arguments speaking against the use Autonomous Weapon Systems. First of all, since Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) are run by a computer program, they can be hacked by terrorist groups, and used to carry out terroristic acts. And, since thy do not need to be controlled from the base, and therefore there is no connection between the base and the UCAV, there is nothing that one could do against it. Another disadvantage of AWSs is that they, during a war, would probably not be able to distinguish between soldiers and civilians, thereby causing many more casualties on the side of the civilians than necessary. Another problem that would be caused in the case of civilian casualties is that, if there is no human in the loop (so if the UCAV makes the decision to kill all alone), there is no person that can be held accountable for the deaths. This poses a big problem, since it is known that people psychologically need someone to blame, if they are to get over the death of a loved one. On top of that, UCAVs would not be able to, in the pretext of a battle, adapt to a different situation than they were programmed to deal with, if the situation in the battle was to change. One would also not be able to program the UCAV to make spontaneous decisions, or think outside of the box if the situation required it to do so. One other challenge that AWSs would pose is that, because they are so light, they would not be able to carry much firepower, or fuel, thereby limiting the range in that they would be able to be used.

Major Parties Involved

Campaign to Stop the Killer Robots

This is a 53 non-governmental-organization (NGO) strong campaign to get rid of completely autonomous drones. They are a very large Organization, with NGOs such as the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or Nobel Women’s Initiative, and with representatives all over the world.

United Kingdom

The UK is one of the first to develop a UCAV, and is investing a lot of money into the research and development of AWSs.

United States of America

They also were one the first to develop a UCAV, and have the largest arsenal of lethal drones, which is 1,000 drones strong. They are also investing billions every year for the investigation of drone technology.

Evolving measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction

by Katharina Schier


Since decades, terrorists have been a major threat to humanity, may it be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Palestine, Al Qaida in Afghanistan and North Africa, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Hezbollah in Lebanon or ISIS in Iraq and now in Libya, too. Terrorists threaten or kill people, destroy historic sites, and endanger everyone, who is not of the same opinion as them, politically or religiously. But what make these terrorists so dangerous are their weapons. Not only weapons of mass destruction cause great havoc even small arms or other conventional arms can kill thousands of people and do so every year. Especially in third-world countries, where these terrorists are prominent, there is a great risk of terrorists attaining weapons, especially small arms. In countries with instable governments or ongoing armed conflicts, great risks exist. Libya, Syria and Iraq are the most relevant examples in this regard. In Libya, all sort of weapons can be found – small arms and light weapons, MANPADs, chemical weapons and nuclear material. The collapsing state authorities are unable to secure these weapons properly and conventional arms originating from Libya have already been proliferated throughout North Africa and the Middle East. They are used in the manifold armed conflicts in the countries of the region also causing harm to civilians. In Syria and Iraq ISIS, Al Nusra and other Islamistic terrorist groups were able to get hold of chemical substances. There are very strong indications that these groups have already employed chlorine in their fight for an Islamic Calafat. 

If terrorists manage to get hold of any nuclear, chemical or biological material, the whole world could be endangered. This misuse of the Ebola virus for terrorist purposes could lead to the global spread of this deadly disease, especially no longer containable by the national health systems in already weak states. The National Security Strategies of 2010 and 2015 of the US government identify the risk that terrorists could obtain nuclear weapons or material as one of the greatest threats to humanity, “No threat poses as grave a danger to our security and well-being as the potential use of nuclear weapons and material by irresponsible states or terrorists. We therefore seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” 

Definition of Key Terms

Conventional Arms: Weapons, which are widely used and spread, that are neither biological, nuclear nor chemical. They are no weapons of mass destruction.

Anti-Personnel Mines: Land mines designed for the use against humans. 

Cluster Munition: A form of explosive weapon either airdropped or ground launched, which releases small sub munitions. 

Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS): MANPADS are shoulder-launched surface to air missiles (SAMS). Normally, they are guided weapons and can pose a threat to objects in the air such as airplanes or helicopters. 

Small arms and Light Weapons (SALW): There is no globally recognized definition, normally arms and weapons for military use like pistols, guns and artillery systems are considered as SALW. 

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s): Weapons that have the capacity to inflict death and destruction on a massive scale. They are considered as a massive threat, especially in the hands of terrorists or hostile powers. Weapons of mass destruction are either nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical.

Nuclear Weapons: Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth. They can destroy entire cities in minutes, causing a huge threat to the environment and potentially killing millions. A region in which nuclear weapons have been used is uninhabitable since nuclear radiation is present many years after an attack. Nuclear weapons have only been used twice in history, during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 

Dirty Bomb: A dirty bomb is a bomb made from nuclear material combined with explosives that is capable of spreading radioactive material over a very wide area. 

Biological Weapons: Biological weapons contain biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. They are intended to kill or harm people, animals or plants. Biological weapons are living organisms and reproduce in their host victims. 

Chemical Weapons: A chemical weapon is a toxic chemical contained in a delivery system such as a bomb or a shell. It can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action.

Nuclear Disarmament: The disarmament of nuclear weapons. The basis for disarmament is the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of 1968. Since then, the nuclear powers (USA, France, Great Britain, China and Russia) have obliged to disarm their nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear powers oblige not to come in possession of nuclear weapons. 

IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency): The IAEA is the most important international organization for global nuclear cooperation and nuclear security. 

UNODA: UN Office for Disarmament Affairs

Current Situation

urrently, over 875 million small arms are in use with an average use of 30 to 50 years. Small arms cause more deaths than any other kind of weapon. In many regions of the world, everyone can attain small arms rather cheaply and in many crisis regions they are widely spread beyond the security forces. Hundred thousand of victims are caused by small arms yearly. Since these are so easy to attain, small arms are the main weapons of terrorists. In addition, Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) can be used for terrorist purposes, i.e. to shoot down airplanes. MANPADS can also be acquired rather easily, especially in crisis regions.

Libya is currently the main provider for small arms and light weapons as well as MANPADs for terrorist groups. After the fall of the Gaddafi Regime and the unsuccessful intervention by NATO, the country has literally collapsed. Now the internationally recognized government in Tobruk is fighting against the rebels of the Misrata Front. The efforts by the UN special envoy León to form a national government have so far not succeeded. Instead, ISIS has profited from the power vacuum and is now also actively fighting in Libya to establish its Calafat. In this instable situation without any secure borders, terrorists could easily get hold of weapons and proliferate them in the whole region. Small arms are spread throughout the Sahel zone, to Mali and Niger and even as far as Nigeria, where various dangerous terrorist groups have their base and are terrorizing the population with these weapons. Another example how easily the proliferation of these weapons works is that MANPADS that were found in the Gaza Strip could be tracked down to Libyan origin. In addition, the terrorists being responsible for the recent deadly attack in the National Museum of Tunis crossed the unsecured Libyan-Tunisian border with their weapons.

Anti-personnel mines and cluster munition are also conventional arms and can harm many people. Repeatedly, there are reports about the use of cluster munition in non-international armed conflicts, like in Eastern Ukraine or in Syria.

The control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) is recognized as a crucial element to crisis prevention and peace consolidation. Effective post-conflict stabilization is only possible if the prevention of weapon distribution is included in the stabilization program. International organizations besides the UN like NATO, OSCE as well as the EU and its Member States are engaged in the control of SALWs. An effective control of SALW’s can be achieved by effective multilateralism, the prevention of illegal weapon deliveries and the cooperation with affected countries or regions. In many EU nations, strong regulations for the export of SALW’s are in place. Countries have especially enforced the control of SALW’s in the Sahel zone and Libya over the last couple of years. In addition, coming with the conflict in Ukraine, the OSCE has closely monitored the weapon distribution in Ukraine. In 2014, the EU started two projects to further enforce the control of small arms. These projects are situated in the Sahel Zone and in the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS). In addition, the NATO Support Agency (NSPA) runs multiple projects in the Balkan and East Europe, which support the disarmament of SALWs and herewith minimize the risk that terrorists can get hold of these weapons.

In 1999 the so-called the Ottawa treaty was established which forbid the production, the use, the proliferation and the storage of anti-personnel mines. Therefore, all 162 contracting states agreed to destroy their existing stocks. 35 states, including the USA, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and North Korea, have not joined the contract, since they still produce anti-personnel mines or are in possession of those. Overall, the treaty is very successful, since the trade with anti-personnel mines has nearly ended. However, there are reports that the terrorist group Boko Haram is still using anti-personnel mines in Northern Nigeria.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the so-called Oslo-Convention, came into force on 1 August 2010. It forbids the use, the development, the production, the purchase, the storage and the proliferation of cluster munitions. 88 states belong to the treaty; further 27 states have signed the contract, but have not ratified it yet. The countries, which still produce or possess cluster munition have not joined the treaty, for example the USA, Russia, China, Pakistan, Brazil, and India. The risk that terrorists can acquire these weapons is high because they are widespread especially in regions with armed conflicts like Syria.

In Syria, another state on the brink of failing, the international community was in recent months quite successful in minimizing the danger resulting from huge stocks of chemical weapons of the Assad regime. Together with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN transported these weapons outside of Syria and destroyed them on a US ship, the Cape Ray, as well as in various countries, like the UK, Sweden and Germany. However, the risk remains very high that jihadist groups present in Syria and Iraq, like ISIS or Al Nusra, will obtain chemical substances. Already, there exist strong indications that ISIS has used chlorine gas attacks to harm civilians. However, one cannot exclude that there are still more dangerous substances than chlorine gas around like sarin and mustard gas. In Iraq, ISIS has control over the chemical weapon production site Al-Muthanna. Nobody exactly knows what is stored there. Also in the southern parts of Libya, stocks of undestroyed chemical weapons can be found.

The risk that terrorist groups can obtain nuclear weapons cannot be excluded. However, the risk that they produce so-called “dirty bombs” (Radiological Dispersal Devices) out of nuclear sources which are prominent in hospitals, universities or research institutes is much higher. In Libya with its nuclear power plant Tadshura as well as in Iraq terrorists have conquered cities with hospitals and universities like for example Mosul in Iraq.

What aggravates the situation is that ISIS seems to have artillery systems, which could spread these dangerous chemical or radiological substances.

Terrorist could easily gain the knowledge to construct dirty bombs or chemical weapons via the internet. There exist various internet platforms run by groups with a jihadist background, which explain for non-experts how to get and produce chemical weapons or how to construct dirty bombs. In addition, ISIS seems to try to convince scientists and doctors to join the organization.

If the situation does not rapidly change, it is only a question of time until ISIS gets hold of weapons of mass destruction. 

UN involvement

The UN plays a large role in the arms control of SALWs. The most recent development enforced by the UN is the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which defines a global common standard for weapon exports. The ATT came into force on the 24 of December 2014. The big challenge ahead is the global adherence to the treaty. 

The UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects set, in 2001, the UN Program of Action (UNPoA) into action. It regulates nearly all aspects of the control of small weapons and is the starting point for multiple global and regional initiatives. Until today, it is the most important international document with regard to the control of SALWs. 

In 1983, the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW) was enforced. This convention has the goal to forbid or restrict the use of special conventional arms, which cause extraordinary human suffering, which are especially cruel and which cannot distinguish between civil objects on the one hand side and military objects on the other side, in armed conflicts. 119 countries are party to this convention. 

The UN Register of Conventional Arms run by UNODA was put into action on the 6 December 1991 through the UN resolution 46/36 L. Since 1992, UNODA accumulates information about imports and exports of conventional arms systems and on voluntary basis, gains information about the national arms stocks and the purchase from national production. The goal of this register is confidence building through transparency. The UNODA Military Spending Overview follows the same aim. 

The UN also plays a large role in the disarmament of WMD’s. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly addresses the topic of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation of WMD’s and SALW’s. Around 60 resolutions are debated every year in the GA1. In 2014, the main topics of the first commission were initiatives to the global nuclear disarmament, the ATT, the clarification of the Syrian chemical weapon use, space safety and cyber safety. 

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is part of the UN disarmament machinery and is the only multilateral forum always in session for questions of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation. The conference has 65 member states including all nuclear weapon states. 

Especially one resolution that was presented in the Security Council in 2004, the 1540 resolution, has a great impact on prohibiting terrorist for obtaining weapons of mass destruction. With this resolution, all member states are obliged to prevent terrorists from attaining weapons of mass destruction. Based on this resolution, a Security Council commission has been established which informs the Security Council about progress in this area on a yearly basis. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was formed in Vienna in 1957. It strives to make nuclear energy a source for peace, health and prosperity and strives to stop nuclear energy being used for military purposes. The IAEA has 162 member states. It plays a central role in the international non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and in nuclear security. 

The Nuclear Summit process, originally initiated by President Obama, has catalyzed a global effort to lock down vulnerable nuclear materials and institutionalize nuclear security best practices in order to prevent non-state actors from obtaining nuclear material. The first Global Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) took place in April 2010 in Washington. 47 countries, the UN, the IAEA and the EU worked together to create a work plan for further non-proliferation and disarmament of nuclear weapons. The goal was to close security gaps and to secure material that could be used for weapons. During the second NSS in Seoul, South Korea, especially the security of radioactive sources was highlighted. In 2014, in The Hague, Netherlands, the nuclear security in post conflict regions was highlighted as well as the cyber safety of nuclear power plants. 

Since 2002, the Division of Nuclear Security (NSNS) of the IAEA creates a four year plan (Nuclear Security Plan, NSP). It strives for better protection from nuclear terrorism. The main goal of the NSP 2014-2017 is to increase the physical protection of nuclear power plants, nuclear material and nuclear sources from terroristic purposes. Another goal is to better the border controls in order to eliminate nuclear smuggle. Also cyber safety of nuclear power plants was one of the focused points. 


The UN should enforce its efforts to make the ATT of global recognition. The UN should especially support third world countries in adapting to the regulations stipulated in the ATT. 

The UN should engage in introducing new and intelligent technologies to control the proliferation of SALWs by marking them and keeping track of them. 

One important pillar of UN peace building missions and the follow-on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs should be the control of weapons, particularly of SALWs. 

Also nuclear power plants or other places where nuclear sources are found like hospitals, research institutes or universities should be monitored and protected, especially in third world countries, where this security is lacking. This would hinder terrorists from acquiring material for a so called dirty bomb. 

The UN should continue with its efforts of nuclear disarmament and find ways to make the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva again effective.

The UN should establish programs to assist governments and their national health systems in improving biosecurity, for example by the establishment of laboratories.

The UN should strengthen the work of the 1540 Committee and establish strong links with relevant industries (e.g. chemical, biological).

The UN should encourage Member States to better control the Internet so that terrorists cannot acquire their knowledge how to construct weapons through this medium.

The UN should continue its efforts to stabilize crises regions, especially Libya, Syria, Iraq.

Research Links

Annual Report on Disarmament and Arms Control by the German Federal Government, 2014

National Security Strategy of the US Government, 2010 and 2015