What is it about?

COVID-19 became a challenge for diplomats dealing with arms control and nonproliferation issues. We show how this particular area of diplomacy was disrupted by border closures and social distancing due to the pandemic and how it sought to adapt to these conditions. The essay also explores whether heightened global concerns about health issues would spur new arms control initiatives.

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Why is it important?

Our findings show how the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic might shape the future of arms control diplomacy in three ways. First, their confidential conference-style negotiations were no longer possible because of emergency restrictions. And specialized channels established to exchange sensitive information were not suitable for talks. If health crisis is to continue arms control diplomats will have to invest in reliable communication tools that will allow them to continue their work. Second, travel bans also halted verification activities such as inspection visits. At the same time remote monitoring of compliance with arms control and non-proliferation regimes used by Russia and the United States or by organisations like IAEA and CTBTO was not interrupted. The disruption caused by the pandemic will be used as one more argument in favor of remote verification. But automated tools should not replace humans whose involvement in verification plays an important confidence-building role. Finally, speculations about the origins of the novel coronavirus not only made health issues a more prominent concern for the international community but also framed them in security terms. So far this has had little effect on biological arms control but in the longer run some states might try to strengthen toolkit to deal with this challenge.


Writing this essay was an opportunity for both of us to take a broader look at arms control diplomacy. We believe our findings will contribute to the academic discussion among diplomacy and international security scholars. Moreover, we kept the policymaking perspective in mind, so our ideas might be of interest to diplomats and other professionals involved in arms control and nonproliferation.

Oleg Shakirov
PIR Center

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: From Germs Control to Arms Control: Security Negotiations in the Era of Coronavirus, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, October 2020, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/1871191x-bja10045.
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