Intersessional meeting on autonomous weapons highlights two paths forward, and the urgency of action

On 26–27 April, the Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on autonomous weapon systems (AWS) convened the first of three informal, virtual intersessional discussions. States, international organisations, and civil society discussed the various proposals that have been tabled for consideration by the 2022 session of the GGE, with a focus on the three themes proposed by the Chair: possible challenges to the application of international law; possible prohibitions and regulations; and legal reviews.

The discussions highlighted some convergences as well as remaining divergences in approach and perspective on AWS. While there are overlapping elements among the various proposals under consideration, states remain at odds over whether an international, legally binding instrument is the best way forward, or whether voluntary national measures are sufficient. Given that the GGE only has five more days of formal discussion scheduled this year, and after Russia’s refusal to allow formal work to proceed at its first session, it is not clear how or what states will manage to accomplish at the CCW on this issue.
What is clear is that negotiations of a legally binding instrument prohibiting and restricting AWS can help determine what limits to autonomy in weapon systems are necessary to ensure that humanitarian principles, human rights, and ethical perspectives are brought to bear, and to ensure that human life and dignity are privileged above the profits of weapons and war.

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