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The killing robots must be stopped before it's too late!

AUTONOMIC WEAPONS / We need a new agreement to halt the development of autonomous weapons systems before the defense sector makes those weapons a reality, writes former Peace Prize winner Mary Wareham.


Sometimes diplomacy has to get stuck in order for progress to be possible. This is exactly what happened in November 2018 when a number of states agreed to continue the multilateral talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2019, though without any clear objectives to negotiate an agreement.

Paralyzing consensus requirements

The idea that weapon systems will be able to select and attack targets without human interference causes concerns to rise. The serious consequences of such weapons systems have become too numerous for us to overlook them and touch on both ethical and moral issues as well as issues related to technology, operation and proliferation.

The idea that weapon systems will be able to select and attack targets without human interference causes concerns to rise.

In the past, the states that have signed the UN Weapons Convention have blamed civil society for not taking hold of the unacceptable damage caused by cluster bombs, or the major humanitarian damage caused by anti-personnel mines. Nevertheless, it was not the coalition of non-governmental organizations that blamed the state for its failure to act. Rather, the blame lies with the tyranny of the majority and a form of decision based on a crippling consensus requirement – a method of agreement that has also paralyzed other disarmament agreements forums.

Weapon investment creates fear

In November, Russia succeeded in torpedoing the ambition of a majority of states trying to negotiate a new protocol in the UN weapons convention to ensure meaningful human control over weapons systems and their perpetration of violence. But it could just as well have been China, Israel, South Korea or the United States: These nations invest significantly in weapons with an ever-lower level of human control in their critical functions, thus creating fears of a widespread proliferation of such weapons in new arms races.

We've seen this movie before. If the United Nations Weapons Convention does not come to pass, this means that states that are concerned about fully automated weapons will probably have to seek other means to create a new international agreement. Perhaps through a diplomatic process led by like-minded states outside the UN protection. The UN General Assembly is another opportunity, since they have already put forward the agreement on the ban on nuclear weapons after the nuclear weapons failed in their disarmament resolutions.

Autonomous weapons must be banned

International humanitarian disarmament agreements have succeeded in reducing and preventing human suffering, even without the signatures of the leading state powers. If such a process is embarked upon, it could lead, but it requires political courage and bold leadership, supported by resources and partnerships with UN agencies, the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) and NGOs. The UN stands clear after Secretary-General António Guterres referred to autonomous weapons systems as "politically unacceptable and morally abhorrent" and asked Member States to ban them.

Most people are increasingly dismissive of deadly autonomous weapons. A recent survey in 26 countries shows that 61 percent of those surveyed were against such weapons, an increase from 56 percent 2 years ago.

As the diplomatic course is stalled, the Campaign steps to halt killing robots (Campaign to Stop Killer Robots) launched its offensive in all the world's capitals to encourage the respective authorities to lead efforts to ban such robots.

We have a moral duty to act. We must take this challenge together. Require negotiations for a new deal to stop killing robots before the defense sector's investments in artificial intelligence and related technologies make these weapons a reality.
Wareham works as a director in the weapons department of Human Rights Watch. In 1997, she received the Nobel Peace Prize with Jody Williams, who led the international campaign against land mines. Today, Wareham is leading the international campaign to ban killing robots.

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