On 11-15 April the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met for an informal meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), aka Killer Robots.
Discussions focused on working definitions, challenges to International Humanitarian Law, human rights and ethical considerations, and the security aspects of LAWS.
At the heart of the debate during the meeting was the need for meaningful human control, as well as the ethical and moral questions around delegating responsibility over decisions of life and death to machines.
14 states, thousands of scientists, two UN special rapporteurs, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (which WILPF are part of) are all urging the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument to prevent the development, deployment, and use of LAWS.
At the end of the meeting, states agreed on recommendations for further, more formal deliberations next year through an open-ended Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). If states accept this recommendation at the CCW Review Conference in December 2016, the GGE would operate for a currently undetermined length of time in 2017 and may continue through 2018.
While the establishment of a GGE is a welcome step, the recommendations only call for the GGE to “explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.” This is an unambitious mandate that does not reflect either the pace of technological development nor the urgency of ensuring that meaningful human control is retained over weapon systems and the use of force.
WILPF’s disarmament program, Reaching Critical Will represented WILPF at the meeting and published daily reports. You can read WILPF’s statement to the meeting, along with statements by state and civil society delegations, and other documents related to the meeting.
As the philosopher Simone Weil argued in the mid-20th century, we need to examine the social relations implied by our instruments of violence and war, not just the ends pursued by war. Do we want to seek a future in which the violence we exercise against each other is further mechanised and dehumanised, or do we want to pursue a future in which we are cooperating as a human society to prevent suffering and promote peace and justice?