Informal consultations on autonomous weapons show the imperative of prohibition
From 28 June to 2 July, the Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on “lethal autonomous weapon systems” convened a series of informal consultations online to discuss written submissions that participants of the GGE have made over the past few months. It is the mandate of the current GGE to explore and agree on possible recommendations on options for a “normative and operational framework” related to “emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems,” which it is to present to the next Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Review Conference, scheduled for December 2021.
The CCW has been discussing autonomous weapons since 2014, building on earlier deliberations in the Human Rights Council. Most activists and many diplomats have been disappointed with the lack of ambition and urgency. Technological developments leading to increasing autonomy in weapon systems has continued rapidly, with systems of varying autonomy already being developed and even deployed. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic and government intransigence have prevented meaningful progress for international regulations or prohibition of such systems.
From the outset, most civil society groups—especially those affiliated with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots—have opposed the development of autonomous weapons. An increasing number of governments are also calling for some kind of legal instrument to prohibit and/or regulate certain kinds of weapons, certain levels of autotomy in weapons, and/or autonomy in certain functions of a weapon system. This is very welcome, and absolutely necessary. Yet even as calls for legal action accelerate, there is still a sense of inevitability of the application of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and algorithms to weapons, and an overall lack of urgency to prevent this.