A letter from Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt lays out some further points on the UK’s current policy regarding fully autonomous weapons.

Much of the content of the letter accords with the presentation provided by the Minister in the parliamentary debate on 7th June.  Whilst on the positive side the letter reaffirms the UK’s support for international discussions on this matter, it also stresses their intention not to close off the option of developing such technologies in the future.

The challenge now is to move the government beyond the mantra that ‘international humanitarian law must be followed’, and to find out what this means in practice.  Central to such an understanding will be a definition of the nature and level of “human control” required in order for a weapon to be considered appropriate (either under the current policy or in the future).  The UK already has weapons that allow a substantial degree of autonomy for the detection and engagement of individual targets, albiet within relatively narrow parameters.  The UK has also asserted that all weapons under current policy will remain “under human control”.  As a result it is clearly necessary for the UK team that conducts the legal review of new weapons to have some  policy definition of the level of human control that is considered sufficient (or else how would they assess if a new weapon accorded with the requirements of current policy?).

Article 36 will continue to press for that more detailed policy definition to be made public.

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