PAX launches 'Crunch Time' today at the UN in Geneva. The report provides an overview of the positions of European states on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), also known as 'killer robots'. The report finds that there is a general agreement that there is a ‘red line’ beyond which increasing autonomy in weapons systems is no longer acceptable. European states also agree that there must be human control over the use of force and that there is a need to work towards concrete policy outcomes.
The focus on what in these discussions is called ‘meaningful human control’ could be a good way of moving forward with the discussions. A next step then should be to operationalise this concept, in order to determine what the adequate form and level of human control should be to ensure compliance with ethical and legal norms. The report notes that a number of European states support a political declaration, which would not be as strong as a legal instrument. This reflects the balance that European states try to seek: on the one hand having technologically highly advanced militaries and thus wary of limiting their military capabilities. At the same time they value existing legal and ethical norms and acknowledge there are concerns related to LAWS.
PAX believes that it is in the interest of European states to work towards a legally binding instrument ensuring meaningful human control over selecting and attacking targets. Daan Kayser, programme leader autonomous weapons says: “Once developed these technologies will likely proliferate widely and be available to a wide variety of actors, so the military advantage of these systems will be temporary and limited.” There is also the likelihood of arms race risks threatening international peace and security. “A legally binding instrument would be in line with the European Parliament resolution and is the most suitable and effective way to prevent the negative consequences of LAWS”, Kayser adds.
On Friday the UN will decide next steps on autonomous weapons for 2019. PAX will be in Geneva this week to support the start of a negotiations towards a legally binding instrument.
This report is an update of their previous 2017 report ‘Keeping Control' and analyses on which elements states take similar or diverging views.