The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) hosted a First Committee workshop, “Digital Technologies and conventional arms trade: Opportunities and challenges”. The workshop explored the implications of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLT) in the verification of transfer discrepancies within the context of arms trade.
Mr. Giacomo Persi Paoli, Programme Lead, Security and Technology Programme, UNIDIR, introduced the security and technology programme established earlier in the year, which explores technology-driven security challenges and opportunities, and provides accessible knowledge through a series of activities, events and research.
Mr. Persi Paoli reminded the audience that it is important to maintain a techno-positive attitude and think creatively on how technology could make arms control easier while reducing the threat levels posed by their dual purpose. He emphasized that continuous multi-stakeholder dialogue was necessary.
Ambassador Pankaj Sharma, Permanent Representative of India to the Conference on Disarmament, stated that there is no aspect of life that will remain untouched by pervasive technology. He added that developments were happening at an unprecedented speed and the world was grappling with the impact. Mr. Sharma said the technology’s dual use and layers of complexity posed challenges to security but also had beneficial and peaceful applications.
Ms. Cindy Vestergaard, Senior Fellow and Director, Stimson Centre, described DLT as a distributed, decentralized digital data repository that was linked to a blockchain. She explained that DLT was already applied to many areas in industry operations where agreements on transactions were required by a centralized management system. She added that the technology was secure, immutable, encrypted and programable. She suggested that DLT had huge implications in arms control and that the platform could be public, private, semi-private, or consortium.
Nonetheless, Ms. Vestergaard emphasized that the technology did not replace the need for physical verification and certification. Instead, DLT would be complimentary to the existing process: Human verification would still be required, and traditional documents would be input into the DLT, creating real-time and immutable inputs that could reduce time if book inspections were required.
Mr. Alejandro Hernandez, Head, Data Analytics, Verification Division, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), stated that one of the key challenges the organization faced within the monitoring process is transfer discrepancies. He explained that discrepancies were an indication of ineffective control of trade, which posed a proliferation risk. He explained that although national authorities have an obligation to declare trade volumes of scheduled chemicals, occasionally, volumes declared by the export state did not match the import state’s declaration.
He expressed that DLT could alleviate discrepancies because every actor within the supply chain would confirm reception of the product in real-time. In case of a discrepancy, blockchain DLT would make it easier for national authorities to trace where and when the divergence occurred.
Mr. Philippe Thévoz, Executive Vice-President eGovernment Systems, SICP, gave a hands-on demonstration on the practical application of blockchain in arms control. Mr. Thevoz demonstrated how, through the use of blockchain technology, it is possible to certify the authenticity of documents (e.g. end-user certificates) as well as detect counterfeit and fraudulent copies. He also showed how, through this technology, it is possible to ensure the so-called ‘process integrity’, referring to the possibility of preventing, or detecting in close to real time, any attempts to, for example, circumvent checks and controls that have to be performed in a certain order. Mr. Thevoz suggested that the same process could be applied to certify authenticity of an end user certificate in a weapons transfer.
Mr. Persi Paoli closed the session by stating that DLT could be used on a national level to improve multiagency coordination and on an international level, to support and improve data integrity and trust through transparency.
Text and photos by Leila Hmaidan