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Killer Robots

PAX is co-founder and Dutch coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. This campaign aims to establish a ban on the development, production and deployment of fully autonomous weapons via research, political lobbying and public campaigns.

What is the issue?

What are killer robots?
Killer robots (or so-called: lethal autonomous robots) are fully autonomous weapons which autonomously  select their target and decide whether or not to attack without any meaningful human intervention. Whereas humans guide drones, we are completely surplus to requirements for killer robots; in other words there is no longer any meaningful human control factor. These autonomous weaponsystems do not yet exist, but the technology required to produce them is developing incredibly quickly. Countries such as China, Russia, Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom have already expressed an interest in the development of such weaponsystems. Killer robots must therefore be halted before it is too late and these autonomous weapons become a part of military strategies.

Why are killer robots so dangerous?
In our opinion, killer robots are unable to act in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights. They are incapable of evaluating the full and often complicated context of a conflict situation, of overseeing the consequences of an attack and of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. In other words, they are unable to hold up to the  the principles of proportionality and distinction. It is also unclear who will be  responsible for the actions of killer robots: the manufacturer, the programmer, the commander or the robot itself? Such a development raises the question of whether the distance between combatants and the conflict area does not become so great that any human involvement and perceived responsibility for the conflict threatens to be lost. And will it not lower the threshold to undertake military violence?

From an ethical and moral standpoint, PAX believes that such weapons must not be developed, let alone deployed. We cannot simply sit back and wait for them to be deployed as this will render regulation, let alone a ban even more difficult, while the risk of large-scale proliferation is clear and present. Even though killer robots do not yet exist, now is the time to initiate the discussion and ban them.

What does PAX want?

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was established in 2013 by an international coalition of nine organisations, including PAX, and by now comprises more than 60 non-governmental organisations worldwide. The videos showing the campaign establishment and the campaign one year later, are available here.

In a short period of time, the international campaign has successfully put the subject on the political agenda of national governments and the United Nations. More than 100 states have since expressed their concern regarding the development of fully autonomous weapons and the issue has been discussed in several UN fora. It is on the agenda of the Human Rights Council  and has been discussed extensively during an informal expert meeting at the Convention on Conventional Weapons. PAX is also active in such diplomatic fora. Read for example the PAX speeches. PAX also strives for a broad public discussion of the (un)desirability of weapons without meaningful human intervention, and PAX advocates national measures such as a ban or moratorium on such weapons.

Convention on Conventional Weapons (13 – 17 April 2015)

Curious why so many states are concerned on the development of killer robots (aka autonomous weapon systems)?  Want to know why PAX is worried about this development, have a look at this video. The video shows a statement of PAX on the second expert meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva (13 - 17 April 2015).

During a week states (and civil society, UN agencies and the ICRC) had rich debates on the ethical, legal and operational consequences of autonomous weapons. The need for meaningful or adequate or another form of 'human control' has been central to the debate with the majority of states speaking in support of retaining it. The concept is not about finding or building a 'better' or 'safer' autonomous weapon system but about drawing the line to prohibit systems that do not come under human control. No nation said it is actively pursuing these weapons and only Israel and the United States indicated they are leaving the door open for the future acquisition of such weapons. France and the United Kingdom both explicitly said they will not pursue such autonomous weapons systems but neither indicated support for the logical conclusion of a preemptive ban. The Netherlands was actively participating and advocating the need for further debate and clearly expressed the need for meaningful human control.

Although unfortunate that there is no consensus yet on the need if and when a negotiating mandate should be adopted, the five days of discussions were useful and it was good to see so many female experts were invited this time. We hope that the CCW will decide at its annual meeting November 2015 to start with a so called Group of Governmental Experts in order to have more and deeper discussions the upcoming year and that those debates will lead to a decision at their Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in late 2016, to a negotiating mandate and achieve a new protocol in two years or less. PAX will continue to advocate and campaign for such a ban. After all technology moves faster than diplomacy and therefore it is of utmost importance to have a clear picture on what we want and need to make sure that the human stays in control. Hight time for the UN to set clear rules to safeguard meaningful control on decisions over life and death.

Activiteiten & Resultaten

  • 'Killing without a Heart'

    'Killing without a Heart'

    On April 19, 2016, PAX organised an interactive discussion on killer robots: Killing without a heart in De Balie, Amsterdam. National and international experts answered various questions on the topic: What are Killer Robots? Can these weapons comply with international humanitarian law? Who is responsible if something goes wrong? Do these weapon systems lower the threshold to go to war? And maybe most important: should we let a machine make life and death decisions on the battlefield and can we stop Killer Robots or are we too late? Watch the PAX debate Killing without a heart.

  • Strategy


    PAX is involved in setting up the strategy of the international campaign and the implementation of many campaign activities.

  • Lobby


    PAX speaks with Members of Parliament, diplomats and policy makers on this subject, and provides statements on this matter at international conventions of the United Nations. Read the latest PAX statements and speeches in Geneva.

  • Public campaign

    Public campaign

    Video animation. PAX requests attention for this subject by means of a video animation which explains what killer robots are and the nature of the problem. The video is available in English, Dutch, German and Japanese (subtitled). PAX organises public debates. Noel Sharkey, robot expert and co-founder of the campaign, for example spoke at the Night of Peace organised by PAX.

  • Deadly Decisions: 8 objections to killer robots

    Deadly Decisions: 8 objections to killer robots

    PAX has written on this subject. On 26th February 2014, PAX presented its report entitled 'Deadly Decisions: 8 objections to killer robots' during the Campaign to stop Killer Robots conference in London. In this report, PAX uses eight objections to killer robots to clearly explain why the development of these weapons must be banned.

  • Interfaith statement

    Interfaith statement

    PAX has called upon other parties to take action. For example, religious leaders, organisations and groups are encouraged to support an interfaith statement to express their opposition to the development, production and deployment of killer robots.

Contact information

Miriam Struyk, Program director Security & Disarmament
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Humanitarian Disarmament