With a view to equipping university students, peace advocates and other practitioners with conceptual, political and technical information on peace and disarmament issues, the United Nations Office for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) and the India-based civil society organization the Prajnya Trust organized an online “Disarmament Toolkit” course from 4 to 8 July 2022.
Over one hundred university students and practitioners from civil society organizations, academia, UN agencies, international organizations and governments joined the course, which covered a broad spectrum of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control related topics, including conventional arms, weapons of mass destruction, emerging technologies and disarmament education.
Setting the stage, UNRCPD’s Mr. Steven Humphries shared the core concepts and thematic areas of disarmament, as outlined in the four pillars in the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, namely: Disarmament to Save Humanity, Disarmament to Save Lives, Disarmament for Future Generations and Strengthening Partnerships for Disarmament.
Next, Mr. Manaved Nambiar of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament (UNIDIR) presented on the topic of gender in the context of disarmament. Mr. Nambiar provided an in-depth explanation of gender norms and analysed how these interplay with power relations, representation, and inclusivity. The two main areas in which gender issues are addressed in disarmament and arms control, he said, are through promoting gender equality and women’s participation in disarmament fora, and through applying a ‘gender-lens’ to disarmament efforts and measures, including by considering the impact of gender norms in shaping policies.
The final presentation of the opening session by Ms. Soumita Basu of South Asian University focused on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and Women, Peace and Security (WPS). Outlining the historical origins of resolution 1325, she explained how it serves as an important framework for advancing women’s participation in international security, as well as for promoting gendered considerations in policy development. While there are several positive examples of States in the region who have taken action to implement the WPS agenda, she noted that commitments from others States to develop National Action Plans and allocate corresponding budgets are needed in order to fully meet the resolutions’ objectives.
Day two focused on conventional weapons, with Mr. Hardy Giezendanner, Senior Researcher with the Conventional Arms Programme of UNIDIR, who guided participants through the definitions and concepts, focusing on small arms and light weapons (SALW), relevant normative frameworks and guidelines, and the work of the UN in this field. Next, Mr. Max Menn, Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer with the Firearms Trafficking Section of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), explained the UN’s work in countering illicit arms trafficking and how this relates to key global instruments, namely the Arms Trade Treaty, the Firearms Protocol and the UN Programme of Action on SALW. The third speaker, Mr. Llewelyn Jones, Regional Director for South and South-East Asia for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), delivered a presentation on specific types of weapons that are considered incompatible with international humanitarian law and banned under various treaties, including the United Nations Conventions on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. He also shared insights into the work of MAG and the international community in the area of humanitarian mine action and weapons and ammunition management in the region.
Day three of the Disarmament Toolkit webinar series focused primarily on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their means of delivery. Ms. Anne Glick of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), opened the session by detailing what chemical weapons are, providing a timeline of their widespread use during the First World War, and explaining how these weapons were eventually banned through the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Next, Ms. Ngoc Phuong Van Der Blij of UNODA’s Geneva Branch described what biological weapons are, and contextualized how the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) – the first disarmament treaty banning and entire category of weapons of mass destruction – was created and adopted. She explained that, unlike the CWC, the BWC does not have the same level of institutional capacity, as there is currently no technical secretariat with verification mechanism like the OPCW. One of the organizations involved with supporting the BWC, she elaborated, is UNODA’s BWC Implementation Support Unit.
Mr. Steven Humphries then spoke about nuclear weapons, including their characteristics, the history and legacy of their use and testing, explaining the destructive impacts on human lives, as well as on animals and the environment. His presentation examined some of the key international instruments addressing nuclear weapons, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones.
Finally, Ms. Emmanuelle Maitre, Research Fellow with the Fondation pour la Reserche Stratégique delivered a lecture on missile systems and the state of play of missile proliferation around the world, noting that advancements in offensive and defensive missile capabilities have been one of the core issues to escalate tensions between States in the region and beyond. The presentation culminated with a look at existing international instruments addressing missile proliferation including the Missile Technology Control Regime, UNSCR 1540, and the Hague Code of Conduct Against the Proliferation of Ballistic Missiles.
The fourth day covered emerging technologies and responsible innovation, as well as other challenges to international peace and security. Mr. Charles Ovink, Political Affairs Officer at UNODA explained ways in which emerging technologies could have implications for global peace and security as well as disarmament efforts, such as in the area of fully autonomous weapons systems or other military use of artificial intelligence. One avenue to address potentially negative effects of new and emerging technologies, he said, is by engaging the next generation of industry leaders, engineers and scientists and providing them with the tools and frameworks necessary to innovate responsibly.
For the second session, Ms. Sorcha MacLeod, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, introduced the Group’s work in the area of the protection of human rights against the use of mercenaries in armed conflicts, focusing on relevant international and regional conventions.
The online course concluded with a session on Youth and Disarmament Education, and the role of disarmament and arms control in building a safer, equitable and peaceful world. UN Youth Champion for Disarmament Ms. Linh Trang Phuong from Vietnam shared her experience and achievements as a young activist in the field of disarmament and her vision about the role of young people in achieving a safer and more secure world for all. Next, Ms. Ji Yeon Rho, Associate Expert at UNODA’s Regional Disarmament and Outreach Information Branch, elaborated on UNODA’s #Youth4Disarmament initiative and the Office’s work on disarmament education, outlining how both topics are connected to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Finally, Ms. Asha Hans, Director at the India-based organisation Sansristi and Ms. Andrea Ellner, Lecturer of Defence Studies at King’s College, spoke about arms control and disarmament as important elements of diplomacy, conflict prevention and peace-building processes, and how disarmament and arms control measures can contribute to evolving notions of armed conflict, security, and ways to sustainably address social and economic challenges.