World body of parliaments highlights cyberwar and nuclear risks

Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) adopts resolution on cyber-warfare.

Risks of nuclear-weapons-use through cyber attack identified.

IPU calls for de-alerting of nuclear weapons, followed by nuclear abolition, to prevent an unauthorised or accidental use of nuclear weapons that would have catastrophic consequences.

The Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), the world body of over 160 parliaments, today adopted a resolution Cyber warfare: A serious threat to peace and global security, following a year of consultations by the resolution rapporteurs with cyber warfare experts and member parliaments.

The resolution, adopted in the closing session of the 132nd IPU Assembly, aims to assist parliamentarians to understand the potential for cyber-attacks, the nature of such attacks, the law that should govern military use of cyberspace, and policy approaches to protect civilian infrastructures from cyber-attacks.

The initial draft resolution did not mention nuclear weapons. However, the increasing risks of nuclear-weapons-use resulting from cyber attacks have come to the attention of policy-makers and disarmament experts.

At the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons there were two presentations in the main plenary linking the two - Cyber risks in securing nuclear weapons from unauthorized or inadvertent use by Camille M. Francois and Lowering the Nuclear Threshold: The Dangerous Evolution of World Nuclear Arsenals toward Far-Flung Dispersal, Hair-Trigger Launch Readiness, and First Use Doctrines by Bruce Blair.

IPU Assembly resolution drafting session

Jason Fritz in ‘Hacking Nuclear Command and Control’ (a paper commissioned by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament) highlights the possibilities for cyber-attacks on command and control systems that could lead to an unauthorised nuclear attack, or an attack in response to a falsified alarm.

There have also been suggestions from high-level former government officials in the US that the role of nuclear weapons should be expanded to include nuclear deterrence as a response to a threat of cyber-attack (or actual attack) against critical infrastructure. (See Cyberwar and Nuclear War: the Most Dangerous of All Conflations, Foreign Policy in Focus, July 16, 2013).

PNND  members in several countries proposed to their IPU delegations that the links between cyber attacks and nuclear weapons be added to the draft resolution. The German and Bangladesh delegations to the IPU proposed suitable ammendments. PNND provided background information and organised two educational events at the IPU Assembly: a screening of the movie ‘The Man Who Saved the World’ and a panel discussion on Eliminating risks of nuclear war by accident, cyber-attack or conflict escalation.

As a result the IPU Assembly adopted a final resolution, which, among other things:

  • Noted that: military ICT systems for the deployment and use of force are susceptible to acts of cyber warfare that could lead to third parties intercepting and deploying such systems to cause unauthorized, illegal and destructive use of force… and especially concerned that the hacking of nuclear weapon command-and-control systems could result in the unauthorized launch and detonation of nuclear weapons and cause unparalleled catastrophes;
  • Expressed concern about: the suggestion by military planners that nuclear deterrence be maintained as an option for dealing with the existential threat of a cyberattack,
  • And recommended that: parliaments from nuclear-weapon States call on their governments to rescind launch-on-warning policies, stand down nuclear weapons from high operational readiness and extend the decision-making time for nuclear-weapon use in order to prevent unauthorized activation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, pursuant to the negotiation of agreements to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and achieve their elimination.

IPU President Saber Chowdhury leading a 'Wave goodbye to nuclear weapons' at the IPU 132nd Assembly

PNND will assist IPU member parliaments to implement the resolution on cyber-warfare (especially the text on nuclear weapons) and also to implement the resolution adopted by the IPU in 2014 on Toward a Nuclear Weapon Free World: The Contribution of Parliaments.

The IPU 132nd Assembly also adopted a declaration on sustainable development goals (the Hanoi Declaration), a resolution on water governance and a resolution on international law as it relates to national sovereignty, non-intervention in internal State affairs and human rights.

The next IPU Assembly will be held in Geneva in October 2015.