Safeguarding the digital space is not only about international security. Digital technologies increasingly impact every aspect of our lives, and therefore making cyberspace more secure is also about safeguarding human rights, promoting safety, human security and sustainable development. The message of a secure and safer cyberspace in every aspect—and that is the benefit and responsibility of all—needs to continue to grow and reverberate.
Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Developments and trends, 2020

In 2020, despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent postponement of many multilateral disarmament and arms control processes, the international community achieved progress on several emerging challenges related to developments in science and technology and their implications for international peace and security.

On the issue of outer space, the General Assembly embarked on the development of a new approach, initiated by the United Kingdom, aimed at gaining a better understanding of threats to space systems and seeking proposals to address those threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour. Meanwhile, however, the United Nations Disarmament Commission could not convene its substantive session for a second consecutive year owing to the pandemic. As a result, the Commission could not make progress in preparing recommendations for the practical implementation of transparency and confidence- building measures in outer space activities to prevent an arms race in space.

Monthly number of objects in low Earth orbit

Line chart showing figures on total objects, fragmentation debris, spacecraft, mission-related debris and rocket bodies (1956-2018)

Work continued in two intergovernmental processes on information and communications technologies in the context of international security. The Open-ended Working Group established pursuant to General Assembly resolution 73/27 of 5 December 2018 held its second substantive session from 10 to 14 February 2020 in New York. The Group of Governmental Experts established by General Assembly resolution 73/266 of 22 December 2018 held its second substantive session from 24 to 28 February 2020 in Geneva. Owing to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, neither of the two groups could hold its third planned formal meeting. However, the Chair of each process convened informal virtual meetings in which delegations and experts could continue their discussions.

Separately, the Group of Governmental Experts on Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems was able to make progress in its substantive work through meetings and consultations held in hybrid and virtual formats. The Chairs of the 2020 session were able to produce, respectively, a paper summarizing commonalities contained in national commentaries on the operationalization of the guiding principles at the national level, as well as a comprehensive Chair’s summary of the Group’s work and discussions during the year (for more information, see chap. III).

Regarding missiles, the international community continued to explore options for advancing new efforts to address concerns about the continued proliferation and use of ballistic missiles.

Participants listening to the presentations

Participants at the event “Investment in Equality in Science, Technology and Innovation in the Era of Digitalization for Sustainable Development”, convened in New York on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February 2020.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías