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CCW LAWS Meeting: U.S. Closing Statement and the Way Ahead
May 8, 2015

The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Informal Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS)

U.S. Delegation Closing Statement and the Way Ahead
As Delivered by Michael W. Meier, Head of Delegation
April 17, 2015

Thank you, Mister Chairman.  Since this is the final time we are planning on taking the floor, I want to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to you and the other Friends of the Chair, as well as all the panelists, for the outstanding way you have guided us this week.  Our work has been productive and helped us build on substantive discussions from last year and deepen our understanding.  I would like to make a couple of comments and then set out our thoughts on a proposed way ahead.

First, the United States has been a strong supporter of the decision by the States Parties to CCW to adopt a mandate to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems or LAWS.  We continue to believe that CCW, an IHL forum with its mix of policy, military, and technical experts, is the appropriate venue to consider this complex and important topic.  We have listened carefully to the presentations, but just as importantly the views of other delegations in the room, over the past week and it is clear that there remain many unanswered questions and divergent views on a wide variety of issues.  This is to be expected since we are only on our ninth day of discussions since we began these deliberations last year, and much more work needs to be done.  On Monday my delegation said “it is premature to try and determine where these discussions might or should lead.”  That remains our view today, but we believe it is necessary to continue and we support continuing these discussions. We remain flexible on whether such work is an informal discussion or as a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE).

Second, the explicit purpose of our meeting on LAWS is to discuss future weapons systems, or in the words of the mandate of this meeting, “emerging technologies,” and not current weapons systems.  There has been broad agreement that LAWS do not yet exist.  We heard several delegations refer to remotely piloted aircraft or “drones,” when referring to LAWS, so like our French and Russian colleagues have previously stated, we want to reiterate that we are not discussing current systems such as Remotely Piloted Aircraft or other remotely piloted vehicles, which are operated by humans in real time, and which are distinct from LAWS.  We are also not discussing precision guided munitions or other existing weapons that operate as purely defensive systems to intercept attempted time-critical or saturation attacks.

Finally, I would like to offer our thoughts on a proposed way ahead for our work.  We have heard much discussion this week on weapons review and the requirement, especially for those States Parties to Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions under Article 36, and for all other States under customary international law, to conduct a legal review of all new weapons systems.  Our delegation has also provided information on how the United States conducts our own weapons review.  We believe that this is an area upon which we should focus as an interim step as we continue our consideration of LAWS.  That would allow the CCW to achieve something concrete and beneficial, while we can advance further the discussion of issues that were raised this week.  The United States would like to see the Meeting of High Contracting Parties agree to begin work on an interim outcome document that sets forth what is entailed by a comprehensive weapons review process, including the policy, technical, legal and operational requirements that would apply if a state were developing LAWS.  In addition to LAWS, we believe such a document would assist in common understanding and approach while applicable to all weapons systems.  We remain flexible on what form such a document might take, but we believe it could be a political declaration, similar to what certain states agreed to with MOTAPM, or our preference, a “best practices” document, or even a combination of both.  To be clear, we believe the existence of such a declaration or “best practices” document would not endorse the development of LAWS; it would require States to commit to conduct a thorough weapons review if that State is considering developing LAWS.  Such a document would be a concrete step towards enhancing consistency and quality for the weapons review process. Again, I want to reiterate that we see this as an interim step while we continue to discuss the technical, legal, military, and ethical issues.  It would not be in place of such discussions, and the United States could support additional meetings next year to ensure we have the appropriate time to conduct this work.  We are happy to meet with any interested delegation that may have questions or comments regarding this proposal.  

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.