Advances in the discussion on autonomous weapons – and systems that cannot be effectively controlled
By Richard Moyes
The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met at the end of June for informal online discussions on autonomous weapons. Whilst some continue to reject action, the majority of engaged states showed support for a structure of policy or legal response that includes both prohibitions and regulations.
There are still significant differences over the detail of what such a prohibition and regulation framework would entail – and over whether it needs to be adopted in the form of new law. However, the lines of argument are now much clearer for all to see.
Article 36 had framed such growing policy coherence as the next key step towards a legal treaty and this meeting showed that clear progress is being made. State interventions at the informal discussions and recent written contributions to the CCW CCW signal a significant step forward in the international conversation.
In advance of the informal consultations, Article 36 released a new short paper on systems that cannot be effectively controlled.
We argue that ‘meaningful human control’ is needed in order to ensure sufficient human moral engagement with the use of force, to meet existing legal obligations regarding the use of a weapons system in an attack, and to ensure that responsibility and accountability are situated appropriately.
From this it follows that systems that ‘don’t allow’ or ‘cannot be used with’ meaningful human control should be considered unacceptable and that their development and employment should be prevented. There appears to be considerable convergence in the international conversation on this point. Whilst this proposition seems reasonably straightforward, it is a more complex question to assert what technical structures of system configuration would necessarily produce systems that cannot be sufficiently controlled.
Our short paper considers how this can be tackled, and how rules might be formulated in this area.
Featured image: The Palais des Nations, Geneva by night Photo: Violaine Martin/flickr