Killer robots, major hacker attacks on electricity networks, genetic manipulation or state-of-the-art missile systems are no longer restricted to science fiction films. They now pose a real danger for warfare in the 21st century. Artificial intelligence and new technologies are developing rapidly and are also changing how wars are waged. Since the Geneva talks began five years ago, Germany has been working to regulate lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS). The Federal Government’s aim is a worldwide ban on fully autonomous systems that operate entirely without human control. So far, the negotiations have been very arduous but at the meeting from 19 to 22 August of the Group of Governmental Experts on the Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) set up for the purpose, decisive progress was made.
What progress has been made in the negotiations in Geneva?
A few months ago, many countries still had fundamentally different opinions – some wanted an immediate ban of autonomous weapons, while others saw absolutely no need for regulation. Now, the CCW Group of Governmental Experts has for the first time agreed on a common objective. By 2021, the Group will present concrete recommendations for a normative framework which could regulate how to deal with autonomy in weapon systems comprehensively and globally.
The States Parties want to take an initial important step towards regulation this year. Together, they drew up guiding principles which the international community are to formally adopt before the end of the year. By endorsing these principles, the states are laying down important guidelines, for example, that people have to control weapon systems.
What is Germany doing?
Disarmament and arms control are central pillars of German foreign policy. In a world in which the number of registered mobile phones far exceeds the number of people living on earth and hacker attacks are part of the new normality, disarmament policy also needs to focus on modern technologies.
From the outset, Germany has been providing important momentum in the debate. In March, Foreign Minister Maas invited 450 government representatives and experts from all over the world to the conference Rethinking Arms Control to move forward the international discussion on effective arms control for weapons using new technologies. The International Panel on the Regulation of Autonomous Weapons financed by the Federal Foreign Office is a group of internationally networked experts which is drawing up recommendations for international standards for weapons with autonomous functions.
Minister of State Annen commented:
Artificial intelligence in weapon systems must not lead to a situation where killer robots devoid of human control are waging the wars of the future. We need an international ban on these systems.