ICRAC celebrates successful fulfillment of its 2009 mission

ICRAC is pleased to announce that it has fulfilled the first part of its founding mission statement declared in September 2009 at Sheffield by founding members Juergen Altmann, Peter Asaro, Noel Sharkey and Rob Sparrow.

Given the rapid pace of development of military robotics and the pressing dangers that these pose to peace and international security and to civilians in war, we call upon the international community to urgently commence a discussion about an arms control regime to reduce the threat posed by these systems.

We propose that this discussion should consider the following:

Their potential to lower the threshold of armed conflict;
The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of armed autonomous unmanned systems.

Last week several members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control travelled to Geneva to participate in the first multilateral meeting ever held on Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). This is what ICRAC was calling for.

A group of ICRAC members at the CCW meeting at the UN in Geneva, May 2014

A group of ICRAC members at the CCW meeting at the UN in Geneva, May 2014

A total of 87 countries participated in the four-day meeting of experts on “lethal autonomous weapons systems” by the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, which concluded on the afternoon of Friday, May 16. Representatives were also present from UN agencies including UNIDIR, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and registered non-governmental organizations including the delegation of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

ICRAC members Peter Asaro and Noel Sharkey spoke at the main event before the assembled countries and organisations. Noel Sharkey debated with Ron Arkin from GIT on the technical problems that autonomous weapons face with IHL compliance and proposed a reframing of autonomy in terms of human control. Peter Asaro emphased the morality of ensuring that humans should always be in control of the kill decision.

ICRAC members also participated in a series of three well-attended side events held a lunch time for the delegations. We also made statements to the meeting every day on legal, moral, technical and operational issues.

Dozens of nations intervened to provide national statements, make comments, and ask questions. In a statement to the meeting, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots observed that “the depth and breadth of your interventions demonstrates that adding this emerging challenge to the CCW’s program of work was the right thing to do at the right time in history.”

The high level of engagement by a range of countries in the meeting of experts shows there is appetite for continuing this work in 2015. In a session on the way forward on Friday morning none of the 24 countries that spoke objected to continuing the process of work. At their next annual meeting on November 14, the 117 states party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons will decide – by consensus – on the mandate for moving forward.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has urged countries to advance the issue in the CCW by agreeing to a mandate in November that creates a more formal level of discussions and by dedicating much more time – weeks, not days – to addressing the many concerns that have been raised with these future weapons systems.

This week’s deliberations show there is great concern with the prospect of future weapons that, once activated, would select and engage targets without meaningful human control. Several examples of existing robotic systems with various degrees of autonomy and lethality were provided and there was acknowledgment that these precursors indicate the trend to ever-greater autonomy in warfare.

Importantly a number of countries acknowledged the relevance of the Martens Clause and its legal requirement that the principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience be taken into account. The strong media coverage and intense interest on social media in this first multilateral meeting on killer robots are clear indicators that there is widespread public interest in what governments can and will do to address this emerging challenge.

Five countries called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, including Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Holy See, and Pakistan. Many more highlighted the importance of always maintaining meaningful human control over targeting and attack decisions, including France, Germany, Netherlands, the UK. The United States has said that there should be “appropriate” human involvement over autonomy in weapons systems. No country vigorously defended or argued for autonomous systems weapons although Czech Republic and Israel each spoke on the desirability of such systems.

These are all indicators to us that there is interest in not only continuing the CCW work on killer robots, but perhaps in creating a future legally-binding instrument to set down some clear rules on the matter. This is only the beginning for multilateral consideration of this topic, but new international law is needed.
Several countries stated that they have started work to develop their national views on fully autonomous weapons.

ICRAC is a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and the call issued by the Campaign for a pre-emptive ban on these fully autonomous weapons has become a central feature of the international debate. ICRAC will now continue its work towards ensuring a legally binding instrument to prohibit research, development and production of fully autonomous weapons systems.

You can view all of ICRAC’s statements to the CCW delegations here.

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