The CCW and the history of controlling conventional weapons
By Richard Moyes
Article 36 is pleased to publish a new research paper by Eric Pokosch on the development of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).
Eric participated in the 1970s discussions that led to the adoption of the CCW in 1980, and his report charts how proposals for the prohibition and regulation of certain weapons – cluster munitions, fuel-air explosives, incendiary weapons and others – were examined and evaluated. It is a report that shows how international discussions on these issues have been characterised from the onset by divergent political orientations; with proposals driven by humanitarian concerns, but often rejected and or watered down under pressure from militarised states.
The CCW is currently concluding its 6th Review Conference – it has been a meeting in which a mere handful of states have been allowed to roll back previous gains, block any new conversations from being taken up (for example on incendiary weapons) and to ensure that future discussions in this forum on autonomous weapons are locked into futile sterility.
This is allowed to happen because the CCW operates under procedures inherited from a Cold War, ‘balance of powers’ mentality. By retaining an approach to consensus that gives any state an effective veto, the CCW is guaranteed to fall to the lowest common denominator. In reflecting on the history of the CCW it is useful perhaps to note that it is a product of a particular time and that from the onset it was only a partial response to issues of civilian harm that new weapon technologies were raising.
In that context we should see perhaps the CCW as an institutional framework within which discussions can be fostered, but where it would be unwise to look for actual solutions. It valuably maintains a recognition that states need to continue a conversation about how we are allowed to kill each other. Yet moving from that conversation to actual legal constraints should be expected to require action elsewhere.