Learning Units

LU 01: Arms Control Basics
01 Arms Control Basics

Arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament have been cornerstones of international security and peace for decades. In turbulent times, limiting armament and restricting its use seems paramount. This learning unit explains why.

After completing this learning unit, you will

  • understand the basic objectives of, and the differences between, the concepts of classical and humanitarian arms control, non-proliferation, counter-proliferation and disarmament.
  • comprehend how constraints on armaments and development are related.
  • assess the utility of arms control in different political environments including current one.
  • be aware of the many tools of arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament and how they are used in existing treaties and conventions.
  • understand critical approaches to arms control, especially with respect to human security, development and gender.
  • know about the thrust of the strategies and policies of the European Union in this area.

Author: Harald Müller

LU 02: Chemical Weapons
02 Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons (CW) are among the most gruesome means of warfare humans ever invented. This learning unit introduces CW and their effects, reviews the evolution of the norm against chemical weapons until the present day, and assesses the feasibility of a world without chemical weapons in the 21st century.

After completing this learning unit, you will

  • understand the nature of chemical weapons and their effects on humans, animals and the environment.
  • understand the technical foundations of CW.
  • be familiar with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and other relevant international treaties
  • understand the current nature of the CW challenge, including
    • dual-use issues relating to civilian research, development and production activities
    • legitimate and illegitimate uses of irritants (e.g., riot control agents)
    • terrorism,
    • chemical security and safety.
  • have an overview of EU policies in support of the CWC and the norm against CW.
  • have background knowledge on CW use in Syria and the international response to a major violation of the norm against CW.

Author: Jean Pascal Zanders

LU 03: Biological Weapons
03 Biological Weapons

The Ebola crisis in West Africa (2014-16) reminded us of the challenge to contain and manage pandemic diseases in a globalised and interconnected world. Although the Ebola outbreak was a naturally occurring epidemic, terrorist organisations or States could create 'man-made' pandemics in the form of biological weapons (BW) in the future.

This learning unit addresses the challenges to prevent acts of bio-warfare and of bio-terrorism in an era of rapid advances and diffusion of sensitive biotechnologies.

After completing this learning unit, you will

  • understand the technical foundations of BW.
  • have an overview of historical BW programmes.
  • comprehend the nature of bioterrorism.
  • be familiar with the political context of biological weapons.
  • have better knowledge of the international legal framework aimed at prohibiting the possession and use of BW.

Author: Filippa Lentzos

LU 04: Nuclear Weapons I
04 Nuclear Weapons I

Understanding nuclear proliferation requires insights into technical aspects of nuclear weapons, the size of global nuclear weapons stockpiles, former and current nuclear arms control treaties, and the rationales for nuclear testing.

After completing this learning unit, you will

  • understand the technical basics of nuclear weapons.
  • comprehend the dual use dimension of the nuclear fuel cycle.
  • know the effects of nuclear weapons.
  • have an overview of global stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials.
  • be familiar with the history of bilateral nuclear arms control
  • understand the rationale of nuclear testing.
  • get an overview of international attempts to ban nuclear testing.
  • be able to assess the EU position on curbing fissile material production and nuclear testing.

Authors: Marco Fey & Giorgio Franceschini

LU 05: Nuclear Weapons II
05 Nuclear Weapons II

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the single most important treaty covering nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. This learning unit introduces the NPT and discusses its political, legal and historical dimensions.

After completing this learning unit, you will

  • understand the origins, history, rationale and functioning of the NPT.
  • know the requirements/basic undertakings of the treaty under its three pillars (disarmament, non-proliferation, peaceful uses).
  • identify the main challenges within the NPT: universality, withdrawal, compliance, enforcement, transparency, WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.
  • comprehend the relation between the NPT and other international legal instruments on disarmament and non-proliferation.
  • get an overview over the IAEA and EURATOM safeguards and verification systems and the legal framework.
  • understand the dynamics and main trends of the peaceful applications of nuclear energy.
  • be able to distinguish the concepts nuclear security and nuclear safety, as well as the different tools and legal instruments of each one.
  • be capable of assessing the EU’s position on the NPT, the IAEA’s safeguards system, nuclear security and nuclear safety.

Authors: Vicente Garrido Rebolledo & Roberta Mulas

LU 06: WMD-free Zones
06 WMD-free Zones

While the world wrestles with the idea of a world free of nuclear weapons, some regions are already a step ahead. The whole southern hemisphere is a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) and also in the northern hemisphere such zones are being created. This learning unit focusses on NWFZ and the idea of broadening such zones both geographically and in relation to other weapons of mass destruction.

After completing this unit, the you will

  • understand the concept of NWFZ and WMDFZ.
  • comprehend the legal basis and the structure of these zones.
  • have an overview of the history of their development.
  • know the rationale of their establishment.
  • understand the role of external actors and the negative security assurances that Nuclear Weapon States are expected to provide.
  • be capable of assessing the EU's position on NWFZ in general and the Middle East WMDFZ in particular.

Authors: Anna Péczeli & Erzsébet Rózsa

LU 07: CBRN Terrorism
07 CBRN Terrorism

Until the present day a large-scale terrorist attack carried out with weapons of mass destruction has not occurred, but it is often seen as (almost) inevitable and only a matter of time. This learning unit offers a sober discussion of the risks of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism in the 21st century.

After completing this unit, you will

  • know a basic definition of terrorism.
  • understand why there is increasing concern over CBRN terrorism.
  • have knowledge on cases of attempted or realized acts of CBRN terrorism.
  • be familiar with CBRN security concepts and measures.

Authors: Wyn Bowen & Christopher Hobbs

LU 08: Missiles And Space
08 Missiles And Space

In recent years space has become ever more important for both commercial and military applications. Some experts assume that the next major war will actually start in space. Given the importance of space as a potential battleground, this learning unit introduces the technical, historical, political and legal dimensions of space security, delivery vehicles, and missile defence.

After completing this unit, you will

  • understand the role and technical aspects of delivery vehicles.
  • be aware of major international regimes associated with delivery vehicles.
  • understand the purpose of missile defence and missile defence deployment plans in Europe.
  • be familiar with key issues relevant to the security of outer space activities, comprehend the multi-year EU diplomatic efforts to advance long-term safety, security, and sustainability of outer space activities.

Authors: Jana Robinson & Michael Romancov

LU 09: Humanitarian Arms Control I
09 Humanitarian Arms Control I

After the Cold War, a new discourse on arms control and disarmament emerged driven, in part, by the severe humanitarian impact of landmines and explosive remnants of war on people’s lives and livelihoods. Security was no longer conceived exclusively in terms of military threats to the state, but as freedom from violence for individuals and groups. This learning unit elaborates on how the paradigm shift from national to human security furthered ‘humanitarian disarmament’ initiatives and explores the political processes that successfully outlawed anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.

After completing this unit, you will

  • be able to describe the humanitarian impacts of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.
  • recall the diplomatic processes that led to their prohibition, including the role of the EU in these processes.
  • be able to restate the main international humanitarian law (IHL) rules governing the regulation of weapons from a humanitarian perspective.
  • know key elements of the Ottawa and Oslo treaties and ongoing challenges in their implementation.
  • recognize key characteristics of a humanitarian disarmament approach.
  • be able to apply a humanitarian disarmament lens to contemporary disarmament debates, including nuclear disarmament.

Author: Maya Brehm

LU 10: Humanitarian Arms Control II
10 Humanitarian Arms Control II

Small arms and light weapons (SALW) are responsible for the majority of violent deaths world-wide. Some critics argue that its SALW which are the real weapons of mass destruction. This learning unit continues debating humanitarian arms control with the exclusive focus on the issue of SALW and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

After completing this unit, you will

  • have a better insight into the issue of illicit SALW proliferation.
  • know the main elements of the most important international policy instruments that were developed at UN and EU level to control the proliferation of SALW.
  • have knowledge on the objectives, scope and content of the ATT and on the challenges with the development and implementation of policy instruments to combat the illicit proliferation of SALW.

Author: Nils Duquet

LU 11: Arms Control In Europe
11 Arms Control In Europe

When it comes to the control of conventional weapons, Europe has an impressive track record of treaties restricting conventional weapons and fostering transparency and confidence. This learning unit explores these regimes which were developed during the Cold War to reduce the likelihood of surprise attacks and debates their value in times marked by new tensions.

After completing this unit, you will

  • understand the origins and rationale of arms control in Europe
  • be able to describe the purpose and functioning of the CFE Treaty, Open Skies Treaty, and Vienna Document
  • know the difference between strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW), understand NATO nuclear sharing and Russian approach to TNW
  • be familiar with the challenges of bringing NSNW under an arms control/confidence-building framework
  • understand the role played by the OSCE, the EU and other organizations in the European arms control system
  • be able to identify and discuss the main challenges to arms control in Europe, including the effects of the Ukrainian crisis

Authors: Lukasz Kulesa & Jacek Durkalec

LU 12: Export Controls
12 Export Controls

For many states, the licit export of armaments is a lucrative endeavor. In order to guarantee that only licit transfers take place, states have export control measures in place. But how do they work and what kind of restrictions apply? Can controls prevent the transfer of weapons and ammunition to criminal networks or terrorists? Can they disrupt the acquisition path of a country developing weapons of mass destruction?

After completing this unit, you will

  • be introduced to the issue of legal international arms trade and the rationale behind export controls.
  • be familiar with different levels of export controls and the various international export regimes and treaties covering different types of weapons or problematic goods.
  • have learned about European export controls in more detail, especially the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and the EU Common Position on Exports of Conventional Arms.
  • know about the problem of “dual use” goods and how they complicate export controls.
  • understand future challenges and how they can be tackled.

Author: Elli Kytömäki

LU 13: Compliance And Enforcement
13 Compliance And Enforcement

'Trust, but verify', was a famous slogan during the Cold War in the context of arms control. However, the question of how to verify that a state is honouring its commitments is (one of) the biggest problem facing arms control regimes. How can we be sure that a party to an arms control treaty is really reducing or eliminating a certain type of weapons? This learning unit aims at providing answers to these tricky questions.

After completing this unit, you will

  • understand the critical role of compliance, verification and enforcement in achieving non-proliferation and arms control objectives.
  • have an overview of how the different treaties approach verification.
  • comprehend why verification alone is not sufficient without enforcement.
  • know the enforcement role of the Security Council.
  • understand the rationale for applying sanctions.
  • have an overview of how various non-compliance cases have been addressed.
  • be capable of assessing ideas for strengthening compliance.
  • grasp the potential of societal verification.

Authors: Mark Fitzpatrick & Paulina Izewicz

LU 14: EU Disarmament And Non-Proliferation
14 EU Disarmament And Non-Proliferation

The European Union’s engagement with matters of non-proliferation and disarmament is multi-faceted and not always easy to grasp. This learning unit will navigate through the complex institutional and political history of the European Union, its first approaches to a Common Foreign and Security Policy, and its growing involvement in global non-proliferation and disarmament affairs.

After completing this unit, you will

  • have explored the stand of the EU in arms control and non-proliferation.
  • understand key EU institutions involved in WMD non-proliferation and the division of labour between them.
  • have knowledge of the EU Strategy of WMD non-proliferation and the EU SALW Strategy.
  • have an overview of the background to EU arms control policies, both in terms of internal dynamics and as reactions to world events.
  • be aware of some of the challenges for the EU in consolidating its arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation policies in its overall institutional and policy frameworks.

Author: Lina Grip

LU 15: Emerging Technologies
15 Emerging Technologies

The military always aims at making use of technological progress. This can entail new weapon systems, new concepts or doctrines, or even entirely new domains of operation such as space or cyberspace. Currently, many technologies which were regarded as mere science fiction only a few years ago are about to enter the battlefield. This learning unit looks at recent developments, identifies key emerging technologies and discusses the problems and challenges they pose for security, peace and arms control.

After completing this unit, you will

  • have an overview over several emerging technologies and their military applications.
  • know the state of proliferation with regard to unmanned weapon systems and the trend toward more autonomy in them.
  • be familiar with hypersonic glide vehicles and the military use of nanotechnology.
  • be able to assess the challenges involved with cyber security as well as the growing demand for non-lethal weapons.
  • understand the challenges of the 21st century due to the dual-use problem and the need for qualitative rather than quantitative arms control.
  • Authors: Frank Sauer & Niklas Schörnig

LU 16: Gender
16 Gender

While the link between gender and disarmament may not be apparent at first, gender has played an important role in disarmament affairs since the early 20th century. The learning unit will start by exploring the importance of gender mainstreaming and highlight historic examples of women's movements. The module will then examine the UN Framework on gender and disarmament, key treaties, conventions, and action plans, as well as the idea behind a feminist foreign policy and positions and actions of the EU.    


After completing this unit, you will

  • understand gender concepts, such as gender norms, gender identity and gender mainstreaming, 

  • recognize the unique impact of conflict on woman as well as their role in preventing conflict,

  • be familiar with key resolutions, treaties and action plans that include gendered aspects in the peace and security discussion,

  • gain awareness of initiatives and policies being pursued to enhance the role of women in peace and security,

  • learn of the work of the European Union on gender mainstreaming and key actors involved in its implementation.

Author: Mara Zarka

LU 17: Disarmament Law
17 Disarmament Law

International non-proliferation and disarmament law forms part of international law and constitutes one of international law’s many sub-regimes. It addresses very specific issues of major significance. However, the founding and functioning principles of non-proliferation and disarmament law are aligned with those of international law. 

This learning unit addresses the importance of international law for non-proliferation and disarmament and delves into related areas such as treaty law, the law on the use of force and international human rights law. The learning unit also looks into the state, where national implementation of international non-proliferation and disarmament law is needed in order to carry out international obligations and where national enforcement needs to be undertaken through national authorities, inspections, investigations and court cases. Finally, the learning unit addresses the EU’s legal order on non-proliferation and disarmament.  

All these topics are illustrated with numerous examples, appealing to those both with and without a legal background. 

After completing the unit, you will:

  • understand the relevance of international law in non-proliferation and disarmament
  • be familiar with key concepts, such as accession, ratification and “pacta sunt servanda”
  • know the difference between legally binding and non-binding instruments
  • understand how international non-proliferation and disarmament law is implemented through national law
  • learn how both international and national law can be enforced at the national level
  • recognise EU law as a subset of international law on non-proliferation and disarmament

Authors: Yasemin Balci and Sonia Drobysz

LU 18: UN Disarmament Machinery
18 UN Disarmament Machinery

Humankind has always been perturbed by the use of particularly cruel means of war. As a result, a number of actions have been taken to restrict such use. The establishment of the United Nations Disarmament Machinery is definitely one step in this direction.

As a key proponent of disarmament since its creation, the UN has over the years heavily and naturally contributed to the definition of the disarmament architecture, pursuing two main goals: first, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. And second, the regulation of conventional arms, particularly the illicit traffic of small arms and light weapons.

In this learning unit, you will learn about the work and the efforts of the United Nations Disarmament Machinery in promoting arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament.

After completing this learning unit, you will:

  • be familiarized with the basic concept of disarmament and its objectives from the United Nations perspective
  • understand the role that the United Nations plays in promoting non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament
  • be introduced to the UN’s institutional framework, the main bodies and the main instruments pursing disarmament goals
  • comprehend the importance of cooperation in disarmament efforts
  • understand the interplay between the UN and the European Union in achieving arms control and disarmament objectives

Author: Federica Dall’Arche

LU 19: Cyberconflict and Cyberstrategy
19 Cyberconflict and Cyberstrategy

Hardly a day passes without bad news from the cyber sector: Cyberattacks against state and military institutions are now almost the norm, and private individuals must be enormously wary of phishing or encryption attacks. The internet, labelled by Chancellor Merkel in 2013 as “uncharted territory”, seems to have become a conflict zone where malevolent state and non-state actors are up to mischief. The press therefore often indulges in hyperbole about “cyberwars” or “cyberattacks”. On the other hand, the worst fears of a cyber-Pearl Harbour have (so far?) not materialized. So where do we stand at the moment?

In this learning unit we try to distinguish between the different levels of cyber threats by looking at different actors capable of aggressive cyber operations. We also look at the international legal framework and the options available to make cyberspace more secure – both at the state and civilian level. After completing this learning unit, you will:

  • be familiarized with the basic concepts of different cyber incidents
  • understand why the cyber realm is no lawless territory from the perspective of international law
  • be introduced to different state and non-state actors which might, or might not, pose a threat to cybersecurity
  • comprehend limits and possibilities of arms control and disarmament in the cyber realm
  • understand the specific EU policy on cybersecurity
  • Authors: Niklas Schörnig and Tommaso De Zan

LU 20: Arms Control History
20 Arms Control History

This learning unit aims to provide a brief history of arms control in a classical chronological order, focusing primarily on the West, from antiquity to the present. In doing so, it postulates that arms control may be considered a relevant discipline from that time, along a more or less continuous chronological line. In reality, there is nothing obvious about these assumptions. In the strictest sense, it could be argued that arms control as a discipline emerged in the 1950s in the context of the bilateral US–USSR strategic relationship, within the very specific framework of the bilateral nuclear deterrence dialogue in a very dated context of ideological and strategic bipolarization of the world. This is why the very question of what is arms control is posed as such in the introduction to this module, and must feed into the unfolding of a long history.

To be fair, it would be appropriate to elaborate on this point by warning that this course is intended to illustrate the various ways in which the West, in particular, has approached the question of the volume of violence in military affairs, between human communities which become essentially interstate from the moment the modern state is born.

Naturally, because the discipline is structured in the second half of the twentieth century, this course focuses on shorter periods and makes the subject more dense. The aim is to detail the different phases that led to a multiplication of initiatives at the end of the last century, to the point where arms control became near synonymous with international security.

At the time of writing, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been ongoing for three weeks. This historic event, likely one of the foundational events of the present century, will leave its mark on the contemporary history of arms control in a way that is still too early to define. Though it reminds us that the historical evolution of war itself has always been accompanied by attempts to limit its effects, whatever the method. The history of arms control is the reverse side of a history of war between peoples.

Author: Benjamin Hautecouverture