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The Relationship of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons with other Agreements: Ambiguity, Complementarity, or Conflict?

Published on August 1, 2017        Author: 

As discussed in Dan Joyner’s recent blog entry, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by 122 States at a United Nations diplomatic conference in New York on 7 July 2017. Article 18 of the Treaty addresses its “relationship with other agreements”. There is, though, an ongoing debate as to the implications of this provision. On 7 July 2017, following the adoption of the Treaty by participating states in the United Nations diplomatic conference, Singapore (the sole abstention) stated in its explanation of vote that phrasing in the article was “ambiguous”. In this blog entry, I argue that this claim is unfounded.

Article 18 is based on a corresponding provision in Article 26(1) of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the intent of which was to ensure that ATT states parties could adopt, or be party to, treaties and other binding agreements governing the trade in conventional arms and ammunition but that they could not lawfully implement any provisions under these other agreements if the obligations therein were inconsistent with their obligations in the ATT.

In the first draft of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (22 May 2017), it was stipulated in Article 19 that it “does not affect the rights and obligations of the States Parties under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”. Thus, it was apparent from the outset that the relationship between the future Treaty and the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) could be a bone of contention during the negotiations. This was borne out in practice in the June–July 2017 diplomatic conference.

With respect to relevant “obligations”, Article 1(b) and (c) of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as adopted, is taken verbatim from Articles I and II of the NPT, respectively. In addition, although the precise formulations differ, there are clear prohibitions on assisting any of the prohibited activities in both the NPT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Published on July 26, 2017        Author: 

On July 7, 2017 a vote was held by a United Nations treaty conference to adopt the final text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Of the 124 states participating in the conference, 122 states voted for adoption, one state (the Netherlands) voted against adoption, and one state (Singapore) abstained. This vote brought to a successful close the second and final negotiating session for a United Nations nuclear weapons prohibition convention, the mandate for which had been given by the General Assembly in December 2016. The treaty will now be opened for signature by states on September 20, 2017, and will come into force 90 days after its 50th ratification.

The TPNW provides for a complete ban on development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons by its parties. It is difficult to overstate the significance of the TPNW within the framework of treaties on nuclear nonproliferation. It is the first multilateral nuclear weapons disarmament treaty to be adopted since the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968. So we are witnessing a generational event of significance. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Legality of the UK / Saudi Arabia Arms Trade: A Case Study

Published on July 20, 2017        Author:  and

On 10 July 2017 the UK High Court delivered its open judgment in a high-profile challenge to the UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. A separate closed judgment was delivered based on the confidential evidence. As readers will be aware, the case involves various domestic and international law considerations.

The primary question was whether the Secretary of State for International Trade (the Government) was legally obliged to suspend extant and cease granting new export licences to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such an obligation would stem from the requirement to deny such licences where there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”.

This condition is contained in Criterion 2 of the Common Rules Governing the Control of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment (European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, December 2008). The Government adopted much of the Common Position as Guidance under s.9 of the Export Control Act 2002 and it accordingly represents the policy that will be applied when considering the grant of export licences. The Consolidated Criteria are thus intended to ensure the UK’s compliance with the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and the text of Criterion 2 links to its Article 7.

This blog post sets out initial thoughts on the open judgment, specifically focusing on its approach to ‘serious violation’ and ‘clear risk’, before examining the deference granted to the executive and its implications for the fulfilment of the ATT’s overarching purpose. Ultimately unsuccessful, the claim underscores the narrow ambit of judicial review and the unwillingness of UK courts to become embroiled in the merits of certain government action. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Talk! Book Discussion: Djemila Carron’s Response

Published on June 2, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Djemila Carron’s “L’acte déclencheur d’un conflit armé international“.

Introduction

I am grateful to the editors of EJIL: Talk! for organizing this discussion – the first one around a book in French! I also would like to warmly thank Professor Julia Grignon and Doctor Tristan Ferraro – whose articles, books and reflections were very important while writing L’acte déclencheur d’un conflit armé international – for their thoughtful comments on my work. In this contribution, I consider some of the questions they raise in each of their pieces, mainly on the capture of a soldier as a triggering act of an IAC (response to Julia Grignon) and on the classification of transnational armed conflict (response to Tristan Ferraro).

Animus belligerendi

I will not respond in detail to Julia Grignon’s development of my rejection of a criteria of animus belligerendi for the existence of an IAC (Part II, Question VI). She perfectly summed up my main arguments. The intent of a State to be in an IAC or in a state of war has no influence on the existence of an IAC. Once again, to exclude subjective elements from the definition of an IAC was one of the key reason for the shift in 1949 from the notion of war to the one of IAC. This said, as explained in the book, for such a conflict to take place, a State must nevertheless have the intent to use force against another one. I propose to defend this element through the objective requirements on the origin of an IAC (Part II, Question IV). In other words, if a State uses force against another one through its organs, acting in their capacity, following instructions and not mistakenly, the animus to use force is considered fulfilled. Read the rest of this entry…

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Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia in the High Court: what is a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”?

Published on April 3, 2017        Author: 

As readers will be aware, the UK High Court is presently considering a high-profile case challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Arguments in the judicial review proceedings brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade were heard in February and judgment is awaited.

Although brought under English law, the case potentially implicates various international law questions. This post focuses on the interpretation of the expression “serious violation of international humanitarian law” (“IHL”) which the government appears to be advancing in the case. By narrowing the concept to include only war crimes, its position has significant implications for the international law regulation of the arms trade in general. This post will argue that the proposed definition should be rejected.

For further information on this and other international law issues arising in the case, the claimant has posted much of the open documentation produced by both sides on its website. This post draws heavily on those documents, and on the author’s notes of the open hearings.

The Issue Before the Court

The claimant challenges the government’s decisions to continue granting licences (and not to suspend existing licences) for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That challenge is based primarily on alleged breaches of IHL by Saudi forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Criterion 2(c) of the UK statutory guidance applicable to arms exports (the “Consolidated Criteria”) prohibits granting a licence “if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The claimants argue that given the evidence of previous breaches, the government should have concluded that such a clear risk existed. Read the rest of this entry…

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North Korea and the Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense

Published on March 28, 2017        Author: 

Media reports over the last few weeks indicate that the already tense relationship between North Korea and the United States is getting worse. Now that North Korea is nearly ready to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, the United States has said that it will get more confrontational. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson even suggested that U.S. military action against North Korea is “on the table.” Such talk is sometimes part of a broader strategy to pressure other countries to negotiate, whether at the Security Council or elsewhere. But it can also be a precursor to war. And it comes at an acute time for the law on anticipatory self-defense.

As readers of this blog no doubt know, Article 51 of the UN Charter recognizes that states have an “inherent” right to use force in self-defense “if an armed attack occurs.” There is an ongoing debate about whether and, if so, when Article 51 permits states to use force to avert an attack that has not yet occurred. Claims for interpreting Article 51 expansively—to permit defensive force even if the attack is only speculative—have been made with respect to “rogue” states that are developing nuclear weapons. In this post, I situate the North Korea case within that debate and explain why the United States might find it to be a particularly challenging case in which to press its expansive claim.

I. The Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense

A. A Restrictive Position

 The majority view on anticipatory self-defense is probably a restrictive one: that anticipatory self-defense can be lawful only if an attack is truly “imminent”—as in, about to occur. Under this view, states may not use force unilaterally to nip in the bud latent threats or attacks that are still conjectural. They must instead address those situations using non-forcible means or by obtaining the UN Security Council’s authorization. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Use of Cluster Munitions by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the Responsibility of the United Kingdom

Published on March 7, 2017        Author: 

In December 2016, after repeated denials, Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, said: ‘It has become apparent that there was limited use by the coalition of the UK-manufactured BL755 cluster munition in Yemen’. This admission opened up questions about the United Kingdom’s potential responsibility for the use of cluster munitions by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon informed the Commons that the munitions used by Saudi Arabia had been delivered in the 1980s, well in advance of the entry into force for the United Kingdom of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (‘the Convention’) on 1 November 2010. The treaty was implemented through the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010 (‘the Act’).

 A judicial review of the granting of export licences to Saudi Arabia is currently taking place in the English High Court, following an application by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (see here). The application focuses on export licences for weapons in general, and follows allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia, including, but not limited, its use of cluster munitions.

In this post, I focus on the specific responsibility of the UK arising under the Convention on Cluster Munitions for the use by Saudi Arabia of UK-provided aircraft, and support by British personnel.

The post addresses three issues: first, whether issuing export licences for aircraft to Saudi Arabia can be construed as a breach of Article 1(c) of the Convention; second, whether the exception on interoperability in Article 21 of the Convention covers the acts by the UK in respect to the use of cluster munitions by Saudi Arabia; and third, whether the UK’s responsibility could also arise also under Article 16 of the Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (‘the 2001 Articles’). Read the rest of this entry…

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Due Diligence Obligation in Times of Crisis: A Reflection by the Example of International Arms Transfers

Published on March 1, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on International Human Rights Law blog symposium on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’.

In this blog post, I would like to take up a question that I discussed at the ESIL Human Rights Interest Group in Riga and analyze whether the due diligence obligation under international human rights law (IHRL) plays a role in the regulation of crisis in order to prevent or mitigate state action that has a negative impact on human rights, and what role that might be.

In doing so, I will use the debate emerging in the wake of the ongoing ‘crisis’ in the Middle East on international arms transfers by foreign governments, for instance, to the Syrian rebels or the Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, to support the fight against IS. International arms transfers in the form of emergency military aid has drawn into the limelight the issue as to whether the recipients of the supplied arms would be able to control them or if these weapons may fall into the hands of non-intended end-users, such as private parties, likely be used to commit human rights violations on the recipient’s territory (which is what in fact happened, see here or here).

The Problématique: Attribution of Conduct

As a general principle, the acts of non-state actors fall out of the scope of the rules of state responsibility, unless they are acting under the direction or control of a state (see Article 8 of the ILC Draft Articles on State Responsibility). Crisis-related scenarios are especially characterized in a way that human rights abuses occur either due to a general situation where the wrongful conduct in question is not identifiable (e.g. in armed conflicts, natural disasters or disease outbreaks) or where acts of non-state actors are not attributable to a state due to lack of control. This might be the case in armed conflicts where third states do not engage in direct attacks but are interfering indirectly by means of state assistance (e.g. military aid in the form of arms transfers). Read the rest of this entry…

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Whose Security is it Anyway? Towards a Treaty Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Published on May 31, 2016        Author: 

On Friday, 13 May 2016, the UN’s Open Ended Working Group (OEWG), convened pursuant to UNGA resolution 70/33 (7 Dec 2015) and mandated, inter alia, to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that would need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons”, closed its second session with a majority of states calling for negotiations of a legally binding instrument (or instruments) to prohibit nuclear weapons to start in 2017.

Although (or perhaps because) the nuclear-armed states have chosen not to play ball, for the first time in decades, a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons is a real possibility. The OEWG, which will meet for a third time in August to agree on recommendations to the UNGA, and the ensuing tug-of-war in the UNGA’s First Committee in October, offer an historic opportunity for multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations to take a big step forward. The reframing of nuclear disarmament as a humanitarian concern has been instrumental in generating strong momentum in support of negotiations. This post surveys some of the legal controversies that arose during the OEWG and explains why, from a humanitarian disarmament perspective, a treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons is both imperative and an effective disarmament measure, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states.

Open to all, the OEWG’s May session has been attended by 100 states, as well as international organizations and civil society representatives, including survivors of the atomic bombings. None of the nuclear-armed states, i.e. the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) recognized under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) –China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – nor the DPRK, India, Israel or Pakistan, participated, casting further doubt on the good faith performance of nuclear disarmament obligations by the respondents in the RMI cases pending before the ICJ.

There is general agreement that the ultimate objective is a world free of nuclear weapons. To that end, all states parties to the NPT (and arguably, all states) have a legal duty to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” pursuant to Art. VI, NPT and customary international law. Views diverge, however, on the pathways, means and urgency with which this goal should be attained. Read the rest of this entry…

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“Are you smarter than Professor Hawking?” Higher Forces and Gut-Feelings in the Debate on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

Published on April 27, 2016        Author: 

“Professor Hawking says that artificial intelligence without control may cause the extinction of the human race”, noted a Chinese delegate following a session on ‘mapping autonomy’ at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting of experts which took place from 11-15 April 2016 at the United Nations in Geneva. The CCW convened its third meeting of experts to continue discussions on questions related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and I had the privilege of participating.

LAWS are most often described as weapons that are capable of selecting and attacking targets without human intervention; one of the key questions addressed at the meeting was what exactly this means. According to most of the commentators present at the meeting, LAWS do not yet exist however, the possibility of using autonomous weapons in targeting decisions raises multidisciplinary questions that touch upon moral and ethical, legal, policy, security and technical issues. The meeting addressed all of these, starting with the technical session aimed at mapping autonomy.

Without expressing their position on a ban, the six technical experts on the panel presented a nuanced view of the state of current autonomous weapons technology and the road that lies ahead. The Chinese were one of the first delegations to respond to the panel and the delegate seemed startled; some of what was said seemed to contradict the conclusions reached by Professor Hawking et al. China read the Open Letter issued by the Future of Life Institute (FLI) and signed by thousands of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers, as well as by a number of other endorsers including the well-known Professor Stephen Hawking. The Open Letter calls for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control, claiming that these weapons would be feasible within years, not decades. The Open Letter attracted a good deal of attention, largely because it is signed by a number of well-regarded figures including, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and as previously mentioned, Professor Stephen Hawking.

The expert panelists offered some divergent views on the claims and predictions made in the Open Letter. In response to these, China asked the panelists “do you think you are smarter than Professor Hawking?” A number of delegates, academics, NGO members and panelists seemed quite amused by the provocative question posed by China. Who dares to disagree with Hawking? Fortunately, some of the experts did. “Isn’t Hawking a physicist, and not an AI expert?”, asked one panelist. Another expert confidently said, “Yes, I am smarter than Stephen Hawking.” Why? “Because, like Plato, I know that I do not know.” The debate is amusing, but also a little bit troublesome. What is the effect of well-regarded figures on the discourse about autonomous weapon systems? Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: Arms Control, EJIL Analysis