UK and other governments must set out clear policy to prevent development of killer robots

States poised to agree formal talks at the UN in Geneva next year

At the annual meeting of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons, a weapons treaty meeting, states are set to agree to hold formal talks on ‘lethal autonomous weapons systems’ next year.

Whilst many states have reaffirmed that it would be unacceptable to have weapons that could operate without human control, states have not yet been prepared to explain what controls are needed to prevent this development.

There is an increasing trend towards weapons systems with autonomous functions. This includes the development of weapons that could autonomously detect and attack targets without a human operator.

At their meeting next year, states should come prepared to talk about existing weapons systems and the controls that are in place that make their use permissible.

I very much welcome the UK government’s policy that the use of any weapons system must be under human control and in accordance with international law, and therefore that the UK government will not develop Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS)” said Professor Sir David Omand, chair of the Birmingham Policy Commission on the Security Impact of Drones.

That means the UK has rightly forsworn LAWS for itself and it should look to other nations to do the same. It must be in the national interest for the UK now to do all it can in Geneva to ensure that its approach is shared internationally through a new and widely endorsed international normative framework” said Sir Omand.

Admiral Lord West of Spithead agrees with this approach and what the UK should do next.

“I welcome the UK policy statement that the use of any weapons system must be under human control. There is however a need to define what exactly that means. Additionally having banned its own use of lethal autonomous weapons systems the UK needs to ensure that such a policy is the international norm; if possible tabulated in international law” said Admiral Lord West of Spithead.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is calling on states to make sure that future talks are aimed at developing new law that would prohibit weapons systems that operate without meaningful human control.

It’s not enough to say that weapons will always be under human control. States must work out what controls are necessary, and agree a new international standard that is enshrined in law” said Laura Boillot, Project Manager at Article 36, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Without new international law, we will face a free-for-all in the development of weapons systems that fundamentally change the nature of conflict and the use of force.”


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