Philip Chennery

Project Assistant, SCRAP Weapons

Conversations on the Arms Industry is a student-led SCRAP Weapons project, born with the intent to create a space for sharing challenges, hopes, and ideas relating to the arms industrial complex. Throughout the series, SCRAP aims to involve not only individuals focused on policy-making, law or technology, but also representatives of arms manufacturing companies, state actors, NGOs, civil society the academic community, and members of the public, with the aim to foster meaningful and inclusive conversations on the impact of the military-industrial complex and beyond. So far the series encompassed three online sessions, respectively titled: ‘A glimpse into the laws and regulations governing the arms trade’; ‘Bridging the way forward with research and development in disarmament technologies’; and ‘Narrowing the gap between social responsibilities and on the ground realities.’

In these episodes, we engaged with actors involved in the monitoring and controlling of weapons, and those involved with communities directly and indirectly affected by the arms industry, whether through humanitarian, legal, or personal capacities. By doing so SCRAP Weapons tried to build bridges between these different sub-sectors with the intent of shedding light on the multifacet impacts of the arms trade, both internationally and on the ground.

Originally conceived as ‘In Conversation with the Arms Industry’, the series’ inspiration was to bring on board speakers involved in the arms manufacturing business , with the aim to explore their work, the challenges they face, and their own understanding of their role in the world. However, this proved to be a substantial challenge, underlining the presence of a prevalent gap between this niche and the general public. Despite reaching out to several contact points within Europe with little degree of success, the invitation for arms industry actors to partake in our open dialogues remains. Yet, notwithstanding the lack of participation of members involved directly in the industry, the series succeeded in investigating and examining several aspects in detail, such as the laws governing the movement of arms, the alternative uses that exist for military technology, as well as the hidden costs and on the ground impacts.

Our inaugural session explored some burning questions on the arms trade treaty (ATT) which entered into force in 2014, taking a dive into its relationship with the Geneva conventions and emphasising the presence of global rules aimed to ensure that any weapons produced are monitored, verified and used according to humanitarian law. The discussion encompassed concerns relating to the accountability offered by these multilateral frameworks and possible ways to engage with all relevant stakeholders or powerful actors and ensure implementation going forward.

The second episode took a more specific look at the role played by drone technology in disarmament. Whilst renowned for their destructive or military uses we spoke with a project on Mine Detection Using Thermal Cameras and Machine Learning, a collaboration of the ICRC, Tokyo’s Waseda University, and NEC Laboratories Europe, to understand the role drones can play in advancing humanitarian public goods. Engaging with speakers from the corporate, academic, and humanitarian communities, the webinar provided a great opportunity for looking towards the future role of the private sector in leading the way in disarmament efforts.

Our third webinar looked at social responsibilities and on the ground realities which specifically zoomed in on human rights and arms trade, particularly with regard to north and sub-Saharan Africa and the legacy of weapons transfer in the region, as well as a Yemen case study. After an overview of the documents at the heart of international law addressing the challenges of arms trade, which had the purpose to provide the audience with a legal point of view on the matter, the webinar addressed the impacts of arms transfers on civilians and children, causing severe violation of International Humanitarian Law. In addition, points related to the UK involvement in arms exports, the role of unions in the lobbying process, and the legacy of arms trade and illicit transfers in the sub-Saharan region were also touched upon, providing the audience with a holistic overview of the matter. On a final note, one of the most crucial takeaways of the session, was the importance of youths movement in campaigning for raising awareness on the effects of the arms trade.

Given the universal aspiration enshrined in Article I of the UN Charter, which emphasises the need “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace”, SCRAP Weapons sought to engage in pragmatic and constructive dialogue with weapons industry actors, never forgetting the ultimate goal of channeling diverse efforts to reduce human suffering and other forms of armed violence. Negotiating a future of global general and complete disarmament (GCD) as mandated by Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons can most effectively be achieved through open and equitable exchanges with all active stakeholders in international security matters.