On April 25-26, 2023, the Luxembourg Directorate of Defence, on the initiative of the Minister of Defence, hosted the Luxembourg Autonomous Weapons Conference, welcoming speakers from governments, the tech industry, civil society, research institutes, and academia. The conference was the third global event on autonomous weapons in 2023, demonstrating continuing positive momentum and engagement regarding the regulation of autonomy in weapon systems and providing more opportunities for stakeholders to engage in discussions and networking.

The two-day event began with a keynote speaker session, followed by the main conference. Luxembourg Minister of Defence François Bausch delivered the opening remarks, and the conference featured five panels that focused on different perspectives of the autonomous weapon systems discussion. These panels encompassed the political view, military applications, national and international regulation, technical challenges versus norms and regulations, and ethical aspects.

The panel discussions brought forth diverse perspectives and concerns, ranging from the potential use of autonomous weapons in the global South to arguments advocating for a better understanding of how autonomy should be implemented within the military. While the level of motivation for establishing a legal framework on autonomous weapon systems varied, most participants clearly expressed their encouragement and determination to see agreement materialise soon towards an operative or legal framework.

Furthermore, the conference delved into more technical discussions, including exploring claims  that systems might “better protect civilians”, questions of boundaries to using autonomous weapon systems, varying “levels of autonomy”, etc.. Throughout the various discussions and presentations, the concept of meaningful human control was consistently emphasised. Christian Guillermet-Fernández, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for Multilateral Affairs of the Republic of Costa Rica, also spoke to this and stressed that achieving a treaty would require a strong consensus on “human control.”

The meeting continued recent substantive conversations and commitments, as seen at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (UN CCW) meetings in Geneva in March, as well as in the Belén Communique endorsed by a group of 33 Latin American and Caribbean states. That Communique, a milestone regional agreement, should serve as a key foundation for the development of a wider international legal instrument. The Luxembourg meeting was less ambitious – but again indicative of the growing appetite to work on this issue away from the UN CCW.