This week, for the first time, the United Nations is holding formal talks to discuss autonomous weapons, also known as killer robots.
PAX is taking this opportunity, by way of two reports, to show how some weapons systems are becoming increasingly autonomous and to summarize the current stay of play regarding European countries’ standpoints on these weapons.
Where to Draw the Line shows the trends in the technical development of increasingly more autonomous weapons systems. The report identifies a number of systems which have the ability to select and attack targets with automated ‘critical’ functions.. This includes, for instance, missiles which can stay in the air for a significant amount of time before selecting and attacking a target, unmanned combat aircraft and ground systems with varying degrees of human control. Where to Draw the Line illustrates how the weapons systems of tomorrow are becoming increasingly autonomous.
The second report PAX published today, Keeping Control, provides an overview of European countries’ standpoints on autonomous weapons. One conclusion from this report is that countries agree that there must be some form of human control, but differ about what this control means. A large number of of countries finds that there must always be human control over decisions of life and death. A number of countries leave open the possibility for regulating killer robots, or for an outright ban. In contrast, a number of countries consider existing international humanitarian law of war sufficient. PAX considers this last standpoint unwise given all the ethical, legal and security concerns surrounding killer robots.
Time is of the essence
This week’s UN gathering in Geneva, officially called a Group of Government Experts meeting, is a sign that UN member states are taking killer robots more seriously. Informal talks were held annually between 2014 and 2016, but last year it was decided to move the talks to the next phase. This could be the first step toward international regulation. However, the UN had planned to hold two weeks of formal talks this year, but scaled it back to just one week because some members are behind in paying their dues.
With just one week of discussions, it is essential that states use the time efficiently. Countries need to indicate what they find acceptable or not, particularly when it comes to the issue of human control of weapons. PAX holds that meaningful human control of target selection and whether or not to fire must always be present in any autonomous weapon.
Read more about killer robots.
See also www.stopkillerrobots.org