Peace organisation PAX is co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Through research, lobbying and advocacy the campaign aims to establish a comprehensive and pre-emptive ban on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons (so called ‘Killer Robots’). In 2013, 9 non-governmental organisations set up this international coalition against killer robots. Currently, the coalition consists of more than 40 member organisations from many corners of the world. In a very short period of time the campaign managed to put the issue on the agenda.
Killer robots are fully autonomous weapons that once activated would be able to select and engage targets without meaningful human control. Killer robots do not yet exist but countries such as China, Russia, Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom have already shown an interest. And we are already facing some alarming developments in the field of weapons autonomy. Therefore, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots seeks an international treaty, as well as national policies, laws or moratoria to prevent these weapon systems from entering the battlefield. We must halt these weapons before it is too late.
Why are killer robots so dangerous?
- They are unable to comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. They are incapable to evaluate the full and often complicated context of a conflict situation, to oversee the consequences of an attack or to distinguish between combatants and civilians. Shortly, they will be unable to apply the principles of distinction and proportionality.
- If killer robots replace the role of humans in warfare then to whom do we assign blame and punishment for crimes committed? Is it the robot, the programmer, the manufacturer, or the commander? Killer robots complicate the chain of responsibility which leads to an accountability vacuum that makes it impossible to hold anyone accountable for violations of international law caused by the robot.
- If we can replace people by machines, it will make it easier for leaders to go to war. If the war is no longer experienced by the public this may give politicians more free space in deciding when and how to go to war; it might lower the threshold and decrease democratic checks and balances.
- The distance between the soldiers – but also the public – and the theatre of conflict becomes so great that all human involvement in, and sense of responsibility for, the conflict risks disappearing.