Killer robots, swarms of deadly mini drones, unmanned submarines controlled by autonomous technology – such lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) could soon be a reality thanks to rapid progress in research into robotics and artificial intelligence.
The existence of such weapons would fundamentally change the warfare of tomorrow. In the face of rapid progress made in research, the international community must already consider its response to LAWS today. It was with this in mind that delegations from over 70 countries met in Geneva from 13 to 17 November in order to consult at government expert level on how best to regulate such Systems.
Commitment to international law
Germany and France have injected important impetus into the discussions with a joint working paper. Together, both delegations advocate a clear commitment to applicable international law and to the requirement for future weapons systems to be controlled by humans. As confidence-building measures, Germany and France have proposed a close exchange of information between countries in the development of future weapons systems, as well as the establishment of a group of technical experts to update States Parties on relevant technical developments.
Lengthy negotiations expected
There are signs that the negotiation process is shaping up to be long and difficult. While a number of countries see no need to regulate this area whatsoever at the present time, a group of countries is calling for an immediate ban to the development of autonomous weapons. The proposal tabled by France and Germany could, as a third way, represent a viable solution for a large number of countries.
Consultations are taking place at the UN Office in Geneva as part of the mandate of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Alongside the States Parties, numerous civil society representatives, including the initiators of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, are taking part in the consultations. All decisions taken by the States Parties in this forum must be reached by consensus.
Germany as a pioneer
Since 2014, Germany has made a major contribution to the international discourse during informal consultations on LAWS. Germany held the chairmanship in the Geneva working groups on LAWS in 2015 and 2016. The International Panel on the Regulation of Autonomous Weapons (iPRAW), supported by Federal Foreign Office funding, brings together experts from around the world in order to drive forward the States Parties’ consultations with research work, publications and presentations.