Good news from Geneva! Fourteen countries are now calling for a ban on autonomous weapons, so called killer robots. This added to the growing group of states sharing their concerns, the many parts of society that are calling for a ban (including scientists, Nobel peace prize laureates and religious leaders) and the moral outrage, makes a ban on these weapons seem inevitable.
By Daan Kayser
This week states are discussing autonomous weapons at the UN in Geneva. The discussions are taking place at the Convention of Conventional Weapons (CCW), an international forum where states decide what weapons and weapon use is acceptable. After informal discussions in 2014 and 2015, this is the third time they are discussing this issue. The main topics discussed include current developments, ethical issues and international humanitarian law. Even though there is no agreed definition of autonomous weapons, there is a growing consensus among states that there should always be meaningful human control over the use of lethal force. Miriam Struyk from PAX said in her opening statement to the CCW “The issue of LAWS is a game changer: we are asking ourselves questions that previous generations could not even imagine. But we, here at the CCW, have to ask ourselves these questions and come up with answers….We must act now, so that we do not risk taking the human out of the loop and thereby taking humanity out of the loop.”
PAX also spoke at a side-event on weapon reviews (also know as article 36). Our message: Weapon reviews will not solve the problem of autonomous weapons. These reviews are an important mechanism, but at the moment they are not effective. Only a small number of states currently undertake weapon reviews and in the past weapons that cause unnecessary civilian suffering, like landmines and cluster munitions, passed these reviews. So it is important to strengthen this mechanism, but this is not going to solve the urgent problem of autonomous weapons. We need to act now, before the genie is out of the bottle.
2016 is an important year for this issue, because in December states will decide how to continue with this issue. PAX calls on states to decide on a Governmental Group of Experts with a negotiation mandate for a ban treaty. PAX has many legal, operational and strategic concerns, but the overarching concern is an ethical one. We should not allow machines to make life and death decisions. Machines do not understand the value of life and the far reaching decision to kill cannot be reduced to an algorithm.