“Killer robots”: there is no consensus to launch a real negotiation

In the absence of consensus to begin negotiations on the future of the “killer robots”, the 125 states meeting in Geneva referred the case to the experts, to the chagrin of those who wanted tangible results.

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The final declaration of the review conference of the United Nations Convention on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons (CCAC), which has been held on the shores of Lake Geneva since Monday, does not address the issue of Autonomous Systems of Lethal Weapons. (ROOM) than in fairly general terms.

It recognizes the principles acquired since 2019, on the precedence of international humanitarian law over all weapons systems, including SALA, or the fact that human beings must “assume responsibility at all times” for their use.

He also insists that the Convention, which has already allowed progress in improvised explosive devices, laser weapons or mines, remains the appropriate forum because it “tries to find a balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations.”

The group of government experts that has already worked extensively on the issue will meet for ten working days in 2022.

The “Stop killer Robots” campaign, which brings together almost 180 NGOs, was outraged by the meager result and targeted the United States or Russia.

This result “is totally insufficient” in the eyes of the vast majority of States, civil society and international public opinion, launched the campaign representative on Friday night before the delegations gathered at the Palais des Nations.

“It is dead end street! “, Hammered, believing that the discussion would have to be done elsewhere. Without a doubt on the model of the Ottawa Convention on the prohibition of antipersonnel mines.

We started with a hard core of countries and little by little we tried to convince others to join the movement.

For France and others, the strength of the CCAC is that it would encompass “all the main military powers” and “when we discuss and negotiate we are sure that everyone accepts the limitations,” the French ambassador, responsible for issues of defense, explained before the meeting. disarmament in Geneva, Yann Hwang.

But how to reach a consensus. Traditionally, Russians do not want to tie their hands beforehand, and Americans recalled Friday night that they preferred a non-binding text.

“From our point of view, this would go a long way toward clarifying what international humanitarian law requires and promoting standards of responsible behavior,” recalled the Washington delegate at the end of the session.

The debates become even more difficult given that the concept of autonomous weapons is vague and combines so-called dual-use, civil and military technologies, such as artificial intelligence.

If partially autonomous weapons already exist (decoys on military aircraft, for example), truly autonomous systems on the battlefield, capable of fighting without human intervention, remain theoretical, if we believe most experts.

But his opponents, who also include the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, the ICRC, guardian of the Geneva Conventions that form the basis of international humanitarian law, and dozens of countries, do not want to wait for them to exist. for the.

Switzerland, which spoke for many countries including Germany, Brazil, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa or Italy, Norway and Sweden, expressed disappointment at the limited progress and regretted that some countries are abusing the consensus rule to block. everything.

“What our work has allowed us to understand so far is that autonomous weapons systems cannot be used in compliance with international humanitarian law,” declared the Swiss delegate, warning: “At the current rate of progress, technological development is likely to exceed our expectations. deliberations ”.


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