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Disarmament and arms control: for a safer world

Fully automated systems: rapid developments in autonomous weapons

Fully automated systems: rapid developments in autonomous weapons, © Auswärtiges Amt

05.12.2019 - Article

New weapons systems, global rearmament and increasing rivalry between the superpowers are posing new challenges for the world. Foreign Minister Maas has made arms control a focus of German foreign policy.

Disarmament, arms control and nuclear safety are the prerequisites for peaceful co‑existence. No country can tackle any of these issues on its own. Disarmament agreements only make sense if they are signed and respected by all relevant actors.

Nuclear disarmament: a question of survival

Germany is resolute in advocating nuclear disarmament treaties. In April 2019, Germany called a meeting on the Non‑Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and for the first time in many years put the topic back on the agenda of the UN Security Council. The NPT is the cornerstone of the nuclear order and is up for review in 2020.

Germany also works to promote the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which prohibits the testing of nuclear weapons worldwide. Together with his Algerian counterpart, Foreign Minister Maas chaired an intergovernmental conference on this issue at the United Nations in September 2019. To date 168 states have ratified the CTBT, and the aim is to get more countries to do so to enable the Treaty to enter into force.

During his visit to Japan in November 2019, Foreign Minister Maas attended a meeting of the Non‑Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in Nagoya. It is a constellation of twelve non‑nuclear weapon states who are conducting a dialogue with nuclear-weapon states to bring about practical progress in the sphere of nuclear disarmament, for example, generating greater transparency on nuclear arsenals, strengthening review mechanisms and verifying nuclear disarmament.

International arms control stands at a crossroads. Either we plunge into a new arms race – or we focus our attention on cooperation,

as Foreign Minister Maas underscored.

Banning autonomous weapons

Space weapons, autonomous killer robots and hypersonic missiles may soon become a very real threat. This is why Foreign Minister Maas launched an initiative aiming to ban fully autonomous weapons. At the Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva in November 2019, crucial steps were taken when the States Parties agreed on guidelines for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems. The ultimate aim is to agree a worldwide ban on fully autonomous weapons. Negotiations will be long and arduous.

Modern missile technologies

Missile technology is also developing at a rapid pace. In 2018, Russia tested what it called an “invincible” nuclear-powered missile. India managed to shoot down a satellite in space, making it one of only four countries around the world to have this capability. Just a few weeks ago, Foreign Minister Maas set up the Missile Dialogue Initiative – a worldwide network of experts to advise decision-makers and help prepare responses to modern challenges.

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