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

At the annual meeting of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons held in November 2014, states agreed to renew the mandate to hold formal talks on ‘lethal autonomous weapons systems’ in 2015. One week-long expert meeting will take place in Geneva from 13-17 April 2015 at the CCW.

Ahead of the April expert meeting Article 36 and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are encouraging states to come prepared to discuss national level practice and policies on autonomous weapons systems.

At the CCW meetings in 2014, Article 36, a member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, promoted the principle of ensuring meaningful human control over individual attacks, as laid out in a policy paper distributed at the meeting.

Many states have also reaffirmed that it would be unacceptable to have weapons that could operate without human control. This includes the development of weapons that could autonomously detect and attack targets without a human operator.

So far however, states have not yet been able to explain what controls are needed to prevent this development, nor what controls are already in place over certain weapons systems that have autonomous functions that make their use permissible.

Whilst the UK government has said that ‘the operation of weapons systems will remain under human control’ it has not yet explained the nature of such control.

Professor Sir David Omand, chair of the Birmingham Policy Commission on the Security Impact of Drones has joined the call for the UK to make clear its policy on this issue:

“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). 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”.

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”.

Other states have publicly indicated support for the principle of ‘meaningful human control’ over weapons systems, including Austria, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and it is hoped that these states will also come to the April expert meeting prepared to elaborate further on the nature of such control.

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.


Read more

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 17.47.00Key areas for debate on autonomous weapons systems

May 2014
Briefing Paper


Need for meaningful human control over weapons highlighted by AI experts


Photo: CCW Informal Meeting of Experts on Autonomous Weapons, May 2014. UN photo flickr creative commons

Posted in: Autonomous weapons,