Conventional arms transfers – Exports (US$ millions – 2005; 1990 prices). Refers to the voluntary transfer of weapons destined for the armed forces or intelligence agencies of another country. It includes ships, aircraft, missiles, artillery, armored vehicles and guidance and radar systems. It excludes trucks, services, ammunition, small arms, support items, components and component technology. SOURCE: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The 193 United Nations diplomats are driving a treaty that would be the first legally binding global treaty that would regulate the international arms trade. This treaty is expected to promote transparency and accountability in the arms trade. This is not new!

It actually can be traced back in 2006; the U.N. General Assembly requested that all countries submit their views on a binding arms trade treaty. But it a glaring shortcoming in the proceedings is any meaningful discussion on the role cyber warfare and related technology plays.

When it comes to considering how cyber might fit into the current thinking on this subject, it’s worth looking at some of ideas contained in those submissions.

Fact: Russia, the United States and France are the top three exporters of conventional weapons (in that order), according to dated, but otherwise latest available figures from SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) feature the website,

Several foreign ministers from the U.K., France, Germany and Sweden published an editorial in the Guardian newspaper that said that the treaty should cover all types of conventional weapons,” notably including small arms and light weapons, all types of munitions, and related technologies.

Most agree that current international regulations are ineffective. This action would help prevent the transfer of conventional weapons to armed groups and terrorists which is a concern of most governments.

Based on publicly available information and a bit of digging, however, cyber weapons are not specifically addressed in this treaty.

Several individuals point to the “all types of conventional weapons” statement would include cyber arms. Conventional weapons do not appear to be formally defined under international law but are generally refer to all weapons other than biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

Others are quick to counter with the question, “Since when are cyber arms considered conventional weapons?”

Last week I hinted to this action by the UN when I blogged about a cyber arms race. Here are a couple of points that are worth considering:

First, just recently I was delivering a cyber warfare lecture at the U.S. Army War College and I asked the participants, “What is the difference between a cyber weapon and a cyber security testing tool?” The answer was uniform: “Intent!” And perhaps more specifically, “How do you regulate or control intent?”

Second, there are 193 countries that are members of the United Nations. According to the CIA World Fact Book, there are 231 countries connected to the Internet. So I’d say it is reasonable to guess that some of the 38 countries not part of the UN could or would become the safe havens for cyber arms developers and cyber arms traders! I bet that would drive their economies.

These are just a couple of my thoughts that influence my pessimistic view on these UN efforts as they relate to cyber arms control. But what is clear: UN officials would be wise to give these factors much greater attention before completing a global treaty that attempts to promote transparency and accountability in the arms trade.

Kevin G. Coleman is a long-time security technology executive and former Chief Strategist at Netscape. He is Senior Fellow with the Technolytics Institute where he provides consulting services on strategic technology and security issues. He writes a weekly blog for Breaking Gov on the topic of cyber intelligence.