Killer robots are fully autonomous weapons which autonomously select their target and decide whether or not to attack without any meaningful human intervention. PAX is co-founder and Dutch coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. This campaign aims to establish a ban on the development, production and deployment of fully autonomous weapons via research, political lobbying and public campaigns.
THE NETHERLANDS (April 14, 2015) -- From the 13th to the 17th of April around 120 states [came] together during the multilateral meeting of the Convention of Conventional Weapons at the UN in Geneva to discuss fully autonomous weapons systems, so called killer robots. PAX, co-founder of the Stop Killer Robots Campaign, is confident that the meeting will form the basis for a worldwide ban on fully autonomous weapons.
"It is a good sign that there is so much attention for the issue of killer robots" says Miriam Struyk, programme director Security and Disarmament of the Dutch peace organisation PAX "Developments are going extremely fast and there are growing concerns regarding weapons without meaningful human control, so a ban needs to be achieved as soon as possible."
The Netherlands is Critical
Politicians, experts and civil society are looking into the question of what a killer robot actually is, what meaningful human control should be and what the best measures are to safeguard human control. Also they will see if there is a consensus among the many states who are a member of this UN-forum that further measures are necessary to regulate fully autonomous weapons.
At the moment the Netherlands doesn't have national policy on this issue, but has voiced its concerns related to the robotisation of warfare.
A Dutch delegation, including representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, is also taking part in the meeting in Geneva. Miriam Struyk will share her concerns on behalf of PAX at the meeting of the convention. PAX will also bring the interfaith declaration for a ban on fully autonomous weapons under the attention. The declaration had been signed by over a hundred religious leaders and faith-based groups.
In last years report Deadly decisions PAX described the 8 main objections against the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons. An important objection is that there will not be any meaningful human control in an attack undertaken by a killer robot. Warfare is reduced to killing without a heart. PAX is also greatly concerned that these weapon systems will lower the threshold when it comes to using violence and to the unrestrained spread of violence.
Furthermore PAX is of the opinion that a robot cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians and cannot know if an attack is proportional regarding the number of casualties. And who can we hold accountable for an attack of a killer robot; the machine, the programmer, the producer? And what if things go wrong?
Peace Less Likely
A killer robot will probably be deployed more easily, as a country or group doesn't have to sacrifice its own troops. Furthermore these weapons would probably be relatively cheap and easy to replicate. They can conduct anonymous secret mission, without third parties being able to monitor these activities.
Fear among people in conflict areas will increase if these monstrous weapons would be deployed. Attacks will create hate and the desire for revenge, making the possibility for peace less likely.
By making those involved aware of these objections and by mobilizing people for action through the Stop Killer Robots Campaign, PAX wants to prevent these weapons from ever becoming a reality. Miriam Struyk: "If we take the right steps towards a ban now, we won't have to regret that we did not intervene in time."
THE NETHERLANDS -- PAX is co-founder and Dutch coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. This campaign aims to establish a ban on the development, production and deployment of fully autonomous weapons via research, political lobbying and public campaigns.
What Is the Issue? What Are kKller Robots?
Killer robots (or so-called: lethal autonomous robots) are fully autonomous weapons which autonomously select their target and decide whether or not to attack without any meaningful human intervention. Whereas humans guide drones, we are completely surplus to requirements for killer robots; in other words there is no longer any meaningful human control factor.
These autonomous weapon systems do not yet exist, but the technology required to produce them is developing incredibly quickly. Countries such as China, Russia, Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom have already expressed an interest in the development of such weaponsystems. Killer robots must therefore be halted before it is too late and these autonomous weapons become a part of military strategies.
Why Are Killer Robots So Dangerous?
In our opinion, killer robots are unable to act in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights. They are incapable of evaluating the full and often complicated context of a conflict situation, of overseeing the consequences of an attack and of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. In other words, they are unable to hold up to the the principles of proportionality and distinction.
It is also unclear who will be responsible for the actions of killer robots: the manufacturer, the programmer, the commander or the robot itself? Such a development raises the question of whether the distance between combatants and the conflict area does not become so great that any human involvement and perceived responsibility for the conflict threatens to be lost. And will it not lower the threshold to undertake military violence?
From an ethical and moral standpoint, PAX believes that such weapons must not be developed, let alone deployed. We cannot simply sit back and wait for them to be deployed as this will render regulation, let alone a ban even more difficult, while the risk of large-scale proliferation is clear and present. Even though killer robots do not yet exist, now is the time to initiate the discussion and ban them.
What Does PAX Want?
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was established in 2013 by an international coalition of nine organisations, including PAX, and by now comprises more than 60 non-governmental organisations worldwide. The videos showing the campaign establishment and the campaign one year later, are available here.
In a short period of time, the international campaign has successfully put the subject on the political agenda of national governments and the United Nations. More than 100 states have since expressed their concern regarding the development of fully autonomous weapons and the issue has been discussed in several UN fora. It is on the agenda of the Human Rights Council and has been discussed extensively during an informal expert meeting at the Convention on Conventional Weapons.
PAX is also active in such diplomatic fora. Read for example the PAX speeches. PAX also strives for a broad public discussion of the (un)desirability of weapons without meaningful human intervention, and PAX advocates national measures such as a ban or moratorium on such weapons.
Curious why so many states are concerned on the development of killer robots (aka autonomous weapon systems)? Want to know why PAX is worried about this development, have a look at this video. The video shows a statement of PAX on the second expert meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva (13 - 17 April 2015).
During a week states (and civil society, UN agencies and the ICRC) had rich debates on the ethical, legal and operational consequences of autonomous weapons. The need for meaningful or adequate or another form of 'human control' has been central to the debate with the majority of states speaking in support of retaining it.
The concept is not about finding or building a 'better' or 'safer' autonomous weapon system but about drawing the line to prohibit systems that do not come under human control. No nation said it is actively pursuing these weapons and only Israel and the United States indicated they are leaving the door open for the future acquisition of such weapons. France and the United Kingdom both explicitly said they will not pursue such autonomous weapons systems but neither indicated support for the logical conclusion of a preemptive ban.
The Netherlands was actively participating and advocating the need for further debate and clearly expressed the need for meaningful human control.
Although unfortunate that there is no consensus yet on the need if and when a negotiating mandate should be adopted, the five days of discussions were useful and it was good to see so many female experts were invited this time. We hope that the CCW will decide at its annual meeting November 2015 to start with a so called Group of Governmental Experts in order to have more and deeper discussions the upcoming year and that those debates will lead to a decision at their Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in late 2016, to a negotiating mandate and achieve a new protocol in two years or less.
PAX will continue to advocate and campaign for such a ban. After all technology moves faster than diplomacy and therefore it is of utmost importance to have a clear picture on what we want and need to make sure that the human stays in control. High time for the UN to set clear rules to safeguard meaningful control on decisions over life and death. Call to Action Stop Killer Robots
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots calls for a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous robots. This should be achieved through new international law (a treaty), as well as through national laws and other measures.
We are concerned about weapons that operate on their own without human supervision. The campaign seeks to prohibit taking the human 'out-of-the-loop' with respect to targeting and attack decisions on the battlefield.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has been established to provide a coordinated civil society response to the multiple challenges that fully autonomous weapons pose to humanity.
There are many actions that you can take to support the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ objective of a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons. One way is to contact your government to find out its position on fully autonomous weapons: Does it support the calls for a ban or moratorium on weapons systems that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human?
Jul. 1: Feature film Terminator: Genisys released
Oct. 19 (UN New York): Campaign to Stop Killer Robots side event briefing at UN General Assembly on Disarmament and International Security
Oct. 23-24 (Lisbon, PT): International conference on "Robot Ethics"
Nov. 12-13 (UN Geneva): Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) annual meeting chaired by Ambassador Ravinath Aryasinha of Sri Lanka where nations will decide on whether to continue with talks on "lethal autonomous weapons systems" in 2016.