Heed the European Parliament's Call
European Union states should heed a resolution adopted this month by an overwhelming majority of members of the European Parliament demanding the start of “international negotiations on a legally binding instrument prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems.”
Preventing the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without further human intervention requires bold political leadership. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urges European Union (EU) member states to heed this resolution’s demand and start negotiating a new ban treaty without delay.
Sponsored by the Greens/European Free Alliance group of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Resolution 2018/2752 received wide cross-party support, when it was adopted on 12 September 2018 by a vote of 566 in favour and 47 against. Another 73 Members of the European Parliament abstained from the vote.
The resolution identifies an array of concerns raised by “weapon systems without meaningful human control over the critical functions of selecting and attacking individual targets” including their “potential to fundamentally change warfare by prompting an unprecedented and uncontrolled arms race,” as well as “fundamental ethical and legal questions of human control.”
This isn’t the first time that Europe’s parliamentarians have demanded a ban on killer robots. In February 2o14, a similar number of 534 members of the European Parliament of resolution calling for on EU member states, the Council of Europe, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to: “ban the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons which enable strikes to be carried out without human intervention.” Another 49 parliamentarians voted no on Resolution 2014/2567.
There was strong convergence from a majority of states on the need to retain some form of human control over weapons systems and the use of force at the sixth Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting on lethal autonomous weapon systems at the UN in Geneva last month. The 88 participating states could not agree on the best way to achieve this objective, but recommended continuing the talks next year. States will formally decide on the 2019 mandate at the CCW’s annual meeting on 23 November 2018.
The 28 EU member states vary widely in their policy approaches to address the multiple concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons. For example:
- Austria together with Brazil and Chile is calling for a negotiating mandate to create “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems;
- Belgium‘s government has to date ignored calls from its parliamentarians, artificial intelligence experts, and NGOs to actively pursue a new ban treaty;
- Denmark has a “tech ambassador” and 17 Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff working in “TechPlomacy” yet rarely contributes to diplomatic talks on concerns over lethal autonomous weapons systems;
- France and Germany have proposed pursuing a non-binding political declaration, which Germany regards as an interim measure before negotiating new law but France sees as the end goal.
- Ireland disappointed campaigners at the last CCW meeting by saying it is “premature” to move to negotiate new international law, let alone a ban treaty;
- Italy proposed “analyzing the potential benefits of increasing autonomy in weapons systems” at the last CCW meeting and said concerns could be addressed “within the existing regulatory frameworks;”
- The Netherlands does not support negotiating new international law and regards meaningful human control as good programming in the pre-deployment phase as sufficient to address concerns.
Meanwhile calls to retain human control over the use of force continue to mount. On 25 September, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called weapons that could select and attack a target on their own “morally repugnant” in his address to the opening of the annual session of the UN General Assembly. Guterres has offered to help states negotiate new international law to deal with the “multiple alarms” raised by killer robots.
Soon the calls for a treaty to prohibit fully autonomous weapons will become too numerous and widespread for states to ignore.
For more information, see:
- EP Resolution 2018/2752 on autonomous weapons systems, 12 September 2018
- EP Resolution 2014/2567 on the use of armed drones, 27 February 2o14
- PAX press release and “Keeping Control” report detailing views of European states on killer robots