Killer Robots

Killer robots: states speak out at UN, many urging international talks

CSKR UN Outreach

From left to right: Noel Sharkey (ICRAC), Mary Wareham (Human Rights Watch), Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams and Richard Moyes (Article 36) at the UN General Assembly First Committee outreach

The 2013 session of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security has seen a number of states speak for the first time about fully autonomous weapons, with many urging international talks. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots addressed the First Committee for the first time on Tuesday, 29 October, calling on states to adopt a broad and purposeful mandate of work on the topic when they meet next month.

The statements are continuing, but, as of 30 October, a total of 14 nations had highlighted fully autonomous weapons or “lethal autonomous robots” in their First Committee statements, including, for the first time, New Zealand today and Costa RicaEcuadorGreeceIrelandJapan, and Netherlands yesterday. The full list of statements and relevant extracts follow below.

A total of 28 states have spoken publicly on fully autonomous weapons since the Human Rights Council debate was held on 30 May 2013: Algeria, Austria, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand,Pakistan, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots statement – delivered by coordinator Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch – welcomed the government statements made to date and urged all countries to consider and publicly articulate their policy on this new challenge.It expressed appreciation for the work that France, as chair of the next meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), has been doing to consult on the matter of adding fully autonomous weapons to the convention’s program of work in 2014.

The campaign noted the “wide support for a mandate to discuss this topic in the CCW,” citing CCW Protocol IV banning blinding lasers as a “pertinent example of a weapon being preemptively banned before it was ever developed or used.” The campaign said “the CCW is also a forum that allows for meaningful engagement by civil society in accordance with the precedent set by its previous work.”

On 15 November 2013 , states that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons will meet at the United Nations in Geneva to decide whether to include fully autonomous weapons in their program of work for 2014.

Country Statements

On 29 October, ten states spoke on fully autonomous weapons or lethal autonomous robots at UN General Assembly First Committee yesterday: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Pakistan, Switzerland, United Kingdom, the United States. For all except Pakistan, Switzerland, UK, and the US, this was the first time they had made a public statement on the topic.

At the outset of the 2013 First Committee, Pakistan also expressed its concerns over the weapons, as did Austria, Egypt, and France.

Relevant extracts from the statements follow.

Austria (15 Oct.) 
Prevention and accountability for deliberate targeting of civilians during war, as well as disproportionate collateral casualties as a result of military action, are at the centre of our concern. Today, arms technology is undergoing rapid changes. The use of armed drones in conflict situations is increasing. In a not too distant future, fully autonomous weapons systems might become available. As a result, the implications of these developments on IHL require urgent engagement by relevant UN forums and further discussion with a view to ensure that these weapons will not be used in a way that violates universally recognized principles of IHL such as the proportionality of the use of force or the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Costa Rica (29 Oct.) 
Furthermore, we worry that many problems identified with the use of armed drones would be exacerbated by the trend toward increasing autonomy in robotic weapons. My delegation feels that we should begin international dialogue soon on the issue of lethal autonomous robotics, and calls for States to consider placing national moratoria on their development, production and use and discuss eventual prohibition.

Egypt (8 Oct.)
Egypt reiterates that technology should not overtake humanity. The potential or actual development of Lethal Autonomous Robotics raises many questions on their compliance with international humanitarian law, as well as issues of warfare ethics. Such issues need to be fully addressed. Regulations should be put into place before such systems (LARs) are to be developed and/or deployed.

France (8 Oct.)
 We must look to the future and address its challenges. An important debate has emerged in recent months on the issue of Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs). This is a key debate as it raises the fundamental question of the place of Man in the decision to use lethal force. It is also a difficult debate, as it highlights many ethical, legal and technical issues. It covers technologies which are not yet fully developed and which are dual-use. The terms of this debate need to be clarified. To be useful and allow progress, this discussion needs to be held in an appropriate disarmament forum, combining the necessary military, legal and technical expertise and all the States concerned.

Ecuador (29 Oct.)
 My country believes that the international community should deepen the debate around Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and fully autonomous armed robots. The high number of victims indiscriminate use of drones in civilian areas has also caused serious ethical and legal questions that the development of new military technologies precluding participation and human responsibility in decision-making, is urgent a discussion would be on these new problems in the field of conventional weapons. – Google Translation 

Greece (29 Oct.)
 Greece remains firmly committed to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Protocols and continues to believe that the CCW remains the most appropriate forum for the discussion on a Protocol on Cluster munitions, as it includes both the most significant producers and users, and will thus be in a position to strike a delicate balance between military utility and humanitarian concerns. It is in this same forum that we believe that the topic of Lethal Autonomous Robotics (LARS) should be discussed considering that the CCW is in a unique position to gather the competent diplomatic, legal and military expertise to address this emerging issue.

Ireland (29 Oct.) 
The same principles which provide the foundation for the Arms Trade Treaty must also be applied to all topics of debate in relation to conventional weapons. Whether with regard to anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions, transparency measures, the environmental impact of weapons, or the use of incendiary weapons, to name a few, our focus must always be to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, including the rights of women. These same principles must also apply to weapons which will be developed in the future, such as fully autonomous weapons systems. Constructive engagement and debate is essential to ensure that our actions comply with the principles which underlie the United Nations and international law.

Japan (29 Oct.) 
Japan recognizes growing interests, in the international community, in the issues regarding fully autonomous weapons. We think it useful to start discussion about basic elements related to those weapons, including their definition. CCW, where military, legal and other arms control experts are involved, could provide an appropriate venue to address these issues. Japan looks forward to discussing these issues with other interested States and civil society.

The Netherlands (29 Oct.)
 The possible development of Lethal Autonomous Robot Systems raises many legal, ethical and policy questions. In the Netherlands we have started a discussion on this issue with involvement of the ministries of Foreign Affairs and. Defence, relevant partners of civil society and academia in order to get a better understanding of the developments in this field and the related problems. In answering the question about the legality of weapon systems we are guided by international law and in particular by International Humanitarian Law. While developing new weapon systems, states should remain within the boundaries of international law. We will participate actively in discussions on LARS and in that regard support the proposal of the CCW chair for an informal discussion on LARS in the framework of CCW.

New Zealand (30 Oct.)

Pakistan (29 Oct.) 
Another disturbing trend is the development of new types of conventional weapons like the Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs), and the use of armed drones which cause indiscriminate killing of civilians. The use of drones, especially outside the zone of conflict or the battlefield, not only poses a legal challenge but also has serious human rights and humanitarian implications. It needs to be stopped immediately. The use of drones needs to be brought under international regulation before it spirals out of control.

Similarly, LARs, which would choose and fire on pre-programmed targets on their own without any human intervention, pose a fundamental challenge to the protection of civilians and the notion of affixation of responsibility. They could alter traditional warfare in unimaginable ways. Their development needs to be addressed at the relevant international fora including at the UN and the CCW Conference of State Parties.

The states that currently possess and use such weapons cannot afford to be complacent that such capabilities will not proliferate over time and hence they too shall become vulnerable unless such weapons7 production is curtailed forthwith under an international regime.

Pakistan (16 Oct.) 
Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) – that would chose and fire on pre-programmed targets on their own without any human intervention – pose a fundamental challenge to the protection of civilians and the notion of affixation of responsibility. … We recognize that consensus building will be a difficult task, but we take this opportunity to put forward some ideas that we feel are essential to promote greater global security: … Nine, The development and use of drones and Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARS) need to be checked and brought under international regulation. Besides the UNGA and its First Committee, the CCW Conference of State Parties also provides a forum to address these issues.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the importance of conventional arms in disarmament and international security. New technologies are changing warfare and challenges loom on the horizon. One emerging issue is that of “fully autonomous weapon systems” as highlighted in this year’s report of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. We note with interest that the Secretary-General should consider commissioning a comprehensive study, involving UNlDlR and other research institutes and think tanks, in order to support the appropriate efforts. Switzerland is of the view that there is a need to understand, identify, and clarify the potential challenges associated with fully autonomous weapon systems and the relevant technology. Switzerland therefore recognizes the need for a structured intergovernmental dialogue in the existing forum of the Conventional Weapons Convention (CCW) on this issue. Switzerland stands ready to take an active part in the discussions.

United Kingdom
 I am looking forward to returning to Geneva for the meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and our discussions on lethal autonomous robotics. This is an important issue, and one that sits well within the expert remit of the CCW. I hope that we can bring the UK’s expertise and experience to bear.

United States
 Mr. Chairman, the United States is a High Contracting Party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and all of its five Protocols. The United States attaches importance to the CCW as an instrument that has been able to bring together states with diverse national security concerns.

We look forward to the annual meetings of High Contracting Parties in November and to establishing a program of work for 2014 that will allow CCW States to continue supporting the universalization of the CCW and the implementation of all its Protocols. During this past year, questions have arisen regarding the development and use of lethal fully autonomous weapons in forums such as the Human Rights Council. As the United States delegation to the Human Rights Council stated, we welcome discussion among states of the legal, policy, and technological implications associated with lethal fully autonomous weapons in an appropriate forum that has a primary focus on international humanitarian law issues, if the mandate is right. The United States believes the CCW is that forum. CCW High Contracting Parties include a broad range of States, including those that have incorporated or are considering incorporating automated and autonomous capabilities in weapon systems. The CCW can bring together those with technical, military, and international humanitarian law expertise, ensuring that all aspects of the issue can be considered. Accordingly, we support an informal, exploratory discussion of lethal fully autonomous weapons and are engaged with our fellow CCW High Contracting Parties in formulating an appropriate mandate that will facilitate these discussions.

Reports and media coverage

At First Committee, Human Rights Watch distributed a new “Questions and Answers” paper on fully autonomous weapons that responds to questions received on since the release of its 2012 “Losing Humanity” report. ICRAC issued the statement calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons that was signed by 272 scientists in 37 countries.

The work on killer robots at the UN in New York has attracted strong media interest with articles byTIME WorldComputer World (in German), Fast CompanyNBC News, and VICE, an op ed in SBS News, and blog post by Just SecurityTake Part, and Toward Freedom.

On 15 November 2013 , nations participating in the Convention on Conventional Weapons meeting in Geneva will decide whether to put fully autonomous weapons on the CCW’s program of work for 2014.