The following arms concerns form a portfolio of humanitarian disarmament priorities for national, regional and international action. They cover weapons that have already prohibited or significantly restricted due to the indiscriminate or disproportionate harm caused to humans. They include autonomous weapons systems and the weaponization of space, which pose existential threats to humanity, but are not yet regulated by new international law.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s contributions and areas for future action are also highlighted below. Successive governments have ensured that New Zealand is at the forefront of efforts to protect gains made and advance the boundaries of international humanitarian law to protect civilians in armed conflict.

Antipersonnel Landmines

Antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines are inherently indiscriminate weapons that primarily kill and maim civilians. The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines and requires the destruction of stockpiles within four years, clearance of all mined areas within 10 years, and victim assistance. The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on 1 March 1999 and has 164 States Parties.

New Zealand ratified the Mine Ban Treaty on 27 January 1999, becoming the 64th nation to do so. Every state from the Pacific has ratified the Mine Ban Treaty except Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Tonga. New Zealand destroyed its entire stockpile of antipersonnel landmines in 1996, when the government declared a de facto ban on future acquisition, use and stockpiling. It has no antipersonnel mines under its ownership or possession, including for mine clearance research and training purposes, and has no mined areas under its jurisdiction or control. New Zealand enacted a law on 9 December 1998 that enforces and guides its implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty. See: Landmine Monitor by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate.

Arms Transfers

Thousands of people are killed, injured, raped, and forced to flee from their homes in armed violence fueled by the global trade and illicit transfers of arms, from firearms and grenades to armed tanks and fighter aircraft. The 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in small arms and light weapons contains national, regional and global commitments to address the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects, while the 2001 International Tracing Instrument provides a framework to further facilitate the tracking and tracing small arms and light weapons. The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty sets a minimum standard for transfers of conventional weapons and munitions. It obliges state to assess and determine if their arms transfers would help to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious human rights violations. If so, those arms must not be provided to the recipient. The Arms Trade Treaty entered into-force on 24 December 2014 and has 110 states parties.

New Zealand ratified the Arms Trade Treaty on 2 September 2014, becoming the 45th country to do so. From the Pacific, every state has ratified the treaty except Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tonga. Disaggregated data provided by New Zealand under the treaty’s reporting requirements shows that it exports and imports small arms (i.e. rifles and carbines, revolvers, pistols and shotguns) rather than major conventional weapons. New Zealand promotes implementation of the treaty, including national implementation measures and has developed model legislation to guide states to adhere to and enforce the treaty’s provisions. See: Arms Trade Treaty Monitor by the Control Arms coalition.

Autonomy in Weapons Systems

Remote-controlled armed vehicles or drones show how technology is moving rapidly towards greater autonomy, a path that could ultimately see machines take decisions over life and death, rather than humans. Once activated, autonomous weapons systems would select and attack targets on the battlefield without any further human intervention, dramatically changing the nature of warfare and undermining fundamental protections to civilians. Since 2014, diplomatic talks held at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at UN Geneva have considered an array of legal, operational, and technical concerns over autonomous weapons systems but a handful of military powers have prevented negotiations on new international law.

At least 90 countries wish to negotiate a new international treaty to prohibit and restrict autonomous weapons systems, including New Zealand. Australia has rejected moves to negotiate new international law on killer robots as premature. Few Pacific Island states have elaborated their views on this pressing concern or the necessary multilateral response. In November 2021, New Zealand announced its desire to play “a leadership role in building an inclusive coalition of states, experts and civil society” to create new legal rules to prohibit and limit autonomous weapons systems. See: 2021 Cabinet decision and Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Biological Weapons

Biological warfare is the intentional use of disease-causing micro-organisms, or other entities, that can replicate themselves-such as viruses, infectious nucleic acids and prions-against humans, animals or plants for hostile purposes. This dangerous form of warfare may also involve the use of toxins, which are poisonous substances produced by living organisms, including micro-organisms, plants and animals, as well as synthetically manufactured toxins used for hostile purposes. The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. The convention entered into force on 26 March 1975 and has 175 States Parties.

New Zealand has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention as have all except three states from the Pacific region: Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, and Tuvalu. New Zealand legislated the prohibition of biological weapons through the Nuclear-Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, enacted 8 June 1987. See: Biological Weapons Convention support unit.

Chemical Weapons

Modern chemical weapons were used for the first time in Belgium during World War I and more recently by the Syrian government forces. The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons. Under the convention, states must destroy any stockpiles of chemical weapons and facilities that produced them, as well as any chemical weapons they abandoned on the territory of others in the past. The convention’s verification regime guides implementation of the provisions and aims to ensure that certain toxic chemicals and their precursors are only used for purposes not prohibited under the convention. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague works for implementation of the convention. The convention entered into force on 29 April 1997 and has 193 States Parties.

New Zealand has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention as have all Pacific states. New Zealand works to advance compliance under the convention and it has condemned any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances. New Zealand supported a 2021 decision by the convention’s states that central nervous system-acting chemicals in aerosolised form cannot be used for law enforcement purposes. See: OPCW.

Cluster Munitions

Cluster munitions pose an immediate threat to civilians during conflict by scattering multiple submunitions or bomblets over a wide area, including many that fail to explode upon impact and–like landmines–pose a threat for years after conflict ends. Cluster bomb by the United States in southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere as well as use by Israel in Lebanon and by Syria generated outrage and widespread condemnation. A fast-track diplomatic process led by Norway led to the adoption on 30 May 2008 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions and also requires destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years and clearance of contaminated areas within 10 years. It establishes a strong framework for assistance to cluster munition victims. The Convention on Cluster Munitions took effect on 1 August 2010 and has 112 states parties.

New Zealand ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions on 22 December 2009, five days after enacted national implementation legislation that explicitly bans New Zealand from investing in the production of cluster munitions. Every state from the Pacific has ratified the convention except Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. New Zealand has declared that it has never produced cluster munitions and posses no stockpile, including research or training. See: Cluster Munition Monitor by the Cluster Munition Coalition, 2008 Tipperary Prize Laureate.

Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

While antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions have been banned due to their devastating impact on civilian populations, there is an urgent need to address the broader problem of civilian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Such weapons include mortars, artillery shells and aircraft bombs that use blast and fragmentation to kill and injure people. This wide area of impact can be devastating when the weapons are used in towns and cities. Ireland led a process that concluded in the adoption of a political declaration in November 2022 on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

New Zealand is among the 83 countries that have endorsed the political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas. It is working to promote the declaration and play an active role in its implementation. See: International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW)

Incendiary Weapons

Incendiary weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus are used to attack both personnel and materiel, but cause particularly cruel injuries to both civilians and combatants. They are also prone to being indiscriminate by starting fires and causing casualties over a large area without distinction. Existing international law aimed at regulating incendiary weapons has failed to protect civilians and white phosphorus is not covered as it is not “primarily designed” as an incendiary weapon. Over the past decade, there have been many calls for states to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) to seize the humanitarian imperative to review and strengthen CCW Protocol III on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons.

CCW Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons entered into force on 2 December 1983 and has 117 States Parties, including New Zealand, Australia and Nauru from the Pacific region. New Zealand has highlighted the horrific consequences of the use of incendiary weapons for civilians and condemned use. It has not called for Protocol III to be strengthened, but sees merit in discussing its universalisation, implementation and adequacy in light of the longstanding concerns over incendiary weapons. See: Human Rights Watch

Nuclear Weapons

As shown in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago, the use of nuclear weapons causes death, disfigurement, disease and massive long-term destruction to human society and the environment. The 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) commits states: “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.” A diplomatic process negotiated in the United Nations General Assembly led to the adoption on 7 July 2017 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, transfer, and other activities involving nuclear weapons and includes obligations to support the victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and to remediate environmental damage. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons complements the NPT as well as the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and regional nuclear-free zones such as the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga).

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021 and has 59 States Parties, including New Zealand, which ratified on 31 July 2018, becoming the 14th state to do so. From the Pacific region, [[the Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tonga have not signed or ratified the treaty. New Zealand submitted a declaration to the UN Secretary-General on 18 January 2021 confirming that it does not own, possess, or control nuclear weapons, has never done so, and does not host any other state’s nuclear weapons on its territory. The New Zealand Nuclear-Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act enacted on 8 June 1987 prohibits any acquisition, stationing, testing or use of nuclear weapons. See website of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate, as well as the website of Aotearoa New Zealand ICANW.

Peaceful Use of Space

Growing strategic competition amongst space actors and a higher tempo of activity brings with it challenges to the sustainable and peaceful use of outer space. Disruption to space-based systems could have severe, and far-reaching consequences on Earth. Further, the rapid increase in the number of state and non-state actors in space raises the risk of misunderstandings or miscalculations that may have severe consequences for states and their populations. There is a need for inclusive and transparent multilateral discussions on rules and governance structures pertaining to the militarization and weaponisation of outer space.

New Zealand is one of 11 countries with space launch capabilities. The government’s Disarmament Strategy finds a need for new rules, norms and standards around the use of outer space.

Toxic Remnants of War

Armed conflicts and military activities can damage the environment, with negative consequences for people and ecosystems. Sometimes harm is the direct result of how, where, and with what weapons wars are fought, but in other instances it is an indirect result of social, political, and economic conditions. Toxic remnants of war are particularly relevant and cover a range of substances used in military activities and during conflict that may have a long-term health impact on civilians, or result in damage to the environment. Depleted Uranium is a chemically toxic and radioactive compound used in armour piercing munitions because of its high density.

The UN International Law Commission adopted 28 legal principles in July 2019 that lay out measures to prevent and remediate environmental damage associated with armed conflict.

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