The UK’s Taranis stealth UAV. The Taranis exemplifies the move toward increased autonomy as it aims to strike distant targets “even on other continents”, although humans are currently expected to remain in the loop. (Flickr/Qinetiq

The UK’s Taranis stealth UAV. The Taranis exemplifies the move toward increased autonomy, although humans are currently expected to remain in the loop. (Flickr/Qinetiq

UK-based members of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots today called on the government to publicly support the principle of meaningful human control over individual attacks and articulate a comprehensive national policy, to position itself at the forefront of international discussions to prevent anyone from developing fully autonomous weapons systems.

The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, Action on Armed Violence, Article 36, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and United Nations Association – UK highlighted in a joint letter to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond the important role the UK could play in next week’s multilateral expert discussions in Geneva on ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems’ (taking place within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)).

Given the UK’s stated position that “weapons systems will always remain under human control”, the government could  make a positive contribution to building international consensus on enshrining in new international law the principle that meaningful human control over weapons systems must always be retained.

The joint letter can be downloaded here and is reproduced in full below:


Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
c/o Ben Donaldson, UNA-UK
020 7766 3448

Rt Hon Philip Hammond
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH

8th April 2015

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to you on the issue of lethal autonomous weapons systems ahead of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) expert meeting which will take place in Geneva from 13-17 April 2015. The purpose of the Convention is to ban or restrict the use of weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately.

Over the past decade, the expanded use of unmanned armed vehicles has dramatically changed warfare. Rapid advances in technology are now resulting in the development of increasingly autonomous weapons systems, presenting new humanitarian and legal challenges. International efforts to build consensus and tackle these challenges would benefit from more discussions over states’ policies and existing practices on autonomous weapons systems. We believe the UK could play an important role here. The UK would make a positive contribution at the upcoming CCW expert meeting by presenting its policy and practice on weapons systems with autonomous and automatic functions.

One element of UK policy relates to ensuring acceptable levels of human control in the operation of weapons systems. On this, we hope the UK will consider publicly supporting the principle of ‘meaningful human control over individual attacks’. This is in line with the UK’s assertion that “weapons systems will always remain under human control” (March 2013) and could help establish a useful principle at the forthcoming CCW meeting in Geneva, which in turn could have a positive consensus-building effect internationally.

At present, policy information on the UK’s approach to autonomous weapons systems is spread across many sources, including Hansard parliamentary records, statements to international forums and publications by the MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre. By drawing these strands together into a comprehensive national policy, the UK would make its position clearer and more accessible as well as set a positive example internationally.

The UK has been a major developer of advanced military equipment. It is clearly in our interest to ensure that all weapons systems remain under strict human control, and, as such, for the UK to be at the forefront of international discussions to prevent anyone developing autonomous weapons systems.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these points and to continuing to work constructively with the UK government on this issue in Geneva later this month and beyond.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Rebecca Johnson
Executive Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Thomas Nash
Director, Article 36

Natalie Samarasinghe
Executive Director, United Nations Association – UK

Professor Noel Sharkey
Chairman, International Committee for Robot Arms Control

Steven Smith MBE
Chief Executive, Action on Armed Violence


Read more:

Download the PDF of this joint letter

See how the UK has previously articulated its position on autonomous weapons and human control, which we have also laid out in a briefing note distributed for a parliamentary roundtable ahead of the CCW discussions

Killing by Machine

Explore our new resource produced ahead of next week’s CCW discussions, Killing by machine: Key issues for understanding meaningful human control



Read our blog for exploring the issues ahead of the CCW, Losing control over the use of force: Fully autonomous weapons systems and the international movement to ban them

Posted in: Autonomous weapons,