States make progress on policy at UN discussions, as momentum builds towards Treaty on AWS
The first meeting of 2023 of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) on autonomous weapons systems (AWS) took place from 6-10th March. Following the Belén Communique from Latin American and Caribbean States and the submission of 5 additional written proposals for an international framework on AWS, States engaged in focussed discussions at the GGE, demonstrating that progress towards a new international treaty on AWS is possible
At the outset of the meeting, new working papers containing proposals for the normative and operational framework on AWS were submitted. Three of these proposals, from Austria, State of Palestine and Pakistan, call for new legal rules containing prohibitions on AWS that cannot be used with meaningful human control, and detailed recommendations for regulations, including positive obligations and limits. The papers of Austria and Palestine also called for prohibitions on systems that target humans, to protect human dignity and safeguard against legal and ethical challenges. Throughout the GGE week, all three papers gained significant traction with States around the world demonstrating genuine interest and engagement with the proposals.
These papers build upon work submitted by a wide range of States. The Non-Aligned Movement reiterated its support for a legally binding instrument, stating that non-binding principles and practices are not a substitute for clear legal rules. A statement was delivered by the Arab Group, also recognising the need for a legally binding instrument. The cross-regional group of States that proposed a new Protocol to the CCW, as well as Chile and Mexico, confirmed their ongoing support for legal rules and continued to elaborate on the requirements for meaningful human control. Throughout the GGE discussions, it was evident that a clear majority of States see the urgent need for a legally binding instrument, containing both prohibitions and regulations over AWS.
A revised joint proposal from the US led group, including Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea and the UK was also submitted. The paper contains a combination of both prohibitions on certain types of AWS, and recognition of the need for appropriate controls and limits, including to affect the duration, scope and scale of force, and to reduce automation bias. While the proposal contains recognition of the risks posed by AWS and valuable suggestions to safeguard against such risks, the paper continues to shy away from commitment to new legally binding rules. Instead, the proposal is structured to correspond to existing IHL principles.
The Russian Federation also took a step forward in its new written proposal. The paper refers to the development and use of weapons systems with AI technologies, rather than AWS. The proposal highlights some concerns around weapons being used to intentionally harm civilians, the risk of proliferation and recognises the need for controls, including types of targets, and limits on duration of operation, geographic scope and scale of the force. However, with an emphasis on States being able to determine standards of control at their own discretion, the paper falls drastically short of the international legally binding instrument that is urgently required.
The overall engagement from most European States was open and forward looking. Although no additional revised proposal was submitted from the group of States led by France and Germany, co-sponsors of this paper recognised the need to make progress in substantive policy. Both Norway and Netherlands stated that the ‘lethality’ qualifier within discussions should be dropped, and a range of states indicated the need for clearer lines of prohibition, and greater clarity on the requirements for meaningful human control to ensure compliance with international law and ethical standards.
Stop Killer Robots delivered two statements. In opening, the campaign commended the 80+ states that have now called for a legally binding instrument, noting that momentum towards launching negotiations continues to gather pace. The campaign also outlined expectations for States to progress on policy, including to agree on a prohibition on systems that target humans directly, building work done at the campaign’s Digital Dehumanisation conference in Costa Rica. In closing, a statement was delivered recognising progress in State’s policy positions, and urged states to engage with all forums capable of delivering an international treaty on AWS.
Under the effective Chairmanship of Amb. Damico of Brazil the mood of these discussions was positive. With no State disrupting the substantive dialogue, States were able to elaborate on their written proposals and provide critical feedback and analysis to others. Through engaging with the issue of AWS in an open way, there was widespread recognition of the serious risks they pose, and a determination to work on solutions.
While international policy convergence continues to develop, a small handful of States continue to resist momentum. Russia, India and Israel sounded a warning to States that they will not move to negotiate a legal instrument on the issue, sinking potential for the CCW to deliver concrete outcomes. Regardless, Stop Killer Robots is encouraged to see States now recognising the need to proceed in a forum that is open and accessible to all, capable of making progress, and delivering a legally binding instrument on AWS that the world urgently needs. Our campaign will continue to work to support all States and Stakeholders in achieving this outcome.