70 states deliver joint statement on autonomous weapons systems at UN General Assembly
For the first time at the United Nations General Assembly, states across the world united in delivering a joint statement on autonomous weapons systems. With a total of 70 states joining, this was the largest cross-regional group statement ever made throughout UN discussions on the issue.
While discussions at the UN CCW have failed to deliver results, the statement at the UNGA demonstrates the widespread commitment among states to make progress towards a new international framework on autonomous weapons systems.
The statement, delivered on behalf of the group by Amb. Alexander Kmentt, Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Nonproliferation Department at the Austrian MFA, consolidates key elements of the international response that is urgently needed. It included:
- Recognition that autonomous weapons systems raise serious concerns from humanitarian, legal, security, technological and ethical perspectives.
- Acknowledgement of the need to maintain human responsibility and accountability in the use of force.
- Emphasis on the need for internationally agreed rules and limits – including a combination of prohibitions and regulations on autonomous weapons systems.
The statement brought together a diverse group of states – overcoming differences and divisions that had become entrenched in the CCW. Whilst some of these states currently disagree on what form an international response needs to take, they do all share a recognition that an urgent response is needed. In demonstrating that states could break out of fixed groups, this initiative shows the potential for more ambitious diplomatic action in 2023.
Stop Killer Robots calls for a legally binding treaty on autonomous weapons systems. We see the collective action taken by states as providing an important building block towards this outcome.
Momentum towards launching negotiations on a new international framework is gathering pace. States will be meeting in Costa Rica in February to discuss a regional response to the issue and further international meetings are expected through 2023.
Watch the full joint statement delivered on October 21st, 2022, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Joint Statement on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems to be delivered on 21/10/2022 at UNGA 1C, New York
The research and development of new technologies is progressing at a rapid pace. New and emerging technologies hold great promise for the advancement of human welfare and could help to better protect civilians in conflict in certain circumstances.
However, the introduction of new technological applications, such as those related to autonomy in weapon systems, also raise serious concerns from humanitarian, legal, security, technological and ethical perspectives. We therefore see an urgent need for the international community to further their understanding and address these risks and challenges by adopting appropriate rules and measures, such as principles, good practices, limitations and constraints.
We are committed to upholding and strengthening compliance with International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law (IHL), including through maintaining human responsibility and accountability in the use of force.
Important work has been done and continues to be done under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), including the endorsement in 2019 of the 11 Guiding Principles that, inter alia, should continue to guide the work of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. We are also encouraged that proposals on possible measures and options were presented and discussed at the GGE.
Although it has proven difficult to translate progress made in the CCW’s discussions into further concrete outcomes, the consideration of substantive proposals facilitated the development of shared understandings and convergence on key substantive issues. This included, in particular, the approach based on the prohibition of autonomous weapon systems that cannot be used in compliance with IHL, and the regulation of other types of autonomous weapon systems. States may have different understandings of terms like human judgement, control or involvement. However, there is also a recognition, shared by many, that the human element is and must remain central in the use of force.
Against this background, we emphasise the necessity for human beings to exert appropriate control, judgement and involvement in relation to the use of weapons systems in order to ensure any use is in compliance with International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law, and that humans remain accountable for decisions on the use of force.
Going forward, we recognise the importance of focusing efforts in particular on elaborating the normative and operational framework regulating, where appropriate and necessary, autonomous weapons including through internationally agreed rules and limits.
We also deem it important to further deepen our understanding of these issues. In this regard we welcome the announcement of an international conference to be hosted by The Netherlands on responsible military development, deployment and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the announcement of a regional conference, to be hosted by Costa Rica, on the social and humanitarian impact of autonomous weapons. We also welcome the work carried out by the Secretary General within the “Our Common Agenda” initiative to develop an Agenda for Peace, which features lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) as one of the core areas. We call on the Secretary General to continue to proactively engage on this important issue, including by urging States to make progress towards an outcome at the GGE.
International organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNIDIR, civil society organisations and the tech community make important contributions to international discussions on how to address issues related to emerging technologies and autonomy in weapons systems, including the ethical, human rights, societal and technological dimension. Their participation greatly enhances our ongoing discussions.
We urge High Contracting Parties to the CCW, together with all UN Member States, to intensify consideration of this issue. We are committed to strengthen efforts to address the issue of autonomy in weapon systems.
List of signatories
Bolivia, Plurinational State of
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Korea, Republic of
Moldova, Republic of
State of Palestine
United States of America
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of