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U.S. Statement on the Outcome of the GGE
April 17, 2018

Possible options for addressing the humanitarian and international security challenges posed by emerging technologies in the area of lethal of autonomous weapons systems in the context of the objective and purposes of the Convention without prejudging policy outcomes and taking into account past, present and future proposals.

U.S. Statement as delivered by Katherine Baker
Geneva, April 13, 2018

Thank you Mr. Chair, your leadership has facilitated a very productive GGE. We appreciate your thoughtful facilitation. You are clearly listening to all delegations and their differing views on this admittedly complex and challenging issue. We also thank the Secretariat for its continued support to the High Contracting Parties and all participants for their collaborative attitude.

The United States continues to believe, per the conclusion from the GGE meeting in November, that the CCW offers “an appropriate framework for dealing with the issue of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.”

We believe this has been a particularly productive week, and we appreciate the substantive and interesting contributions from all participants. Although we believe we have made progress this week, it is clear that the GGE needs to continue to work toward a better understanding of the real concepts and issues associated with emerging technologies in the area of LAWS. Gaining a good understanding of the real concepts and issues with the use of autonomy in weapon systems requires an understanding of weapons technology, military doctrine, processes that States use for the responsible development of weapons, IHL, and even an understanding of the capabilities of past weapons and how they have been used. The more we understand the real concepts and issues — looking at this issue from the “bottom up,” rather than the “top down” — the more we will identify the issues that really exist and how they should be addressed.

We have noted that at times during this week some interventions have continued to appear premised on a certain policy option or even designed to prejudice the possible options before a decision is made. We believe that this type of top down approach is ill-advised until a real, specific problem has been identified and a decision is taken by High Contracting Parties in line with the Convention and our rules of procedure.

In August, we therefore urge States to focus on making progress on the elements set out in our programme of work for 2018, and not prejudge the policy options of this process. We encourage all States to consider providing additional working papers and presentations in August addressing the opportunities and challenges they have actually confronted through real world experience with autonomy in weapon systems. Through this bottom up approach of hearing from States that share their experience in addressing the real challenges and opportunities regarding the use of autonomy in weapon systems, the GGE will be best positioned to develop a comprehensive understanding of the relevant issues and identify whether there are areas that need further examination.

We think that interventions by other delegations over the past couple of days, such as those by the Swedish delegation, the Chair’s “sunrise” visual aid, and information in some of the side events, such those organized by iPRAW, CNA and the University of the Amsterdam, and SIPRI, have begun to draw out more of the relevant issues. These perspectives, as well as the sharing of other practices related to the good implementation of IHL by States should more closely guide the GGE’s future work.

In this regard, we would like to direct delegations’ attention to the working paper the United States submitted for the GGE’s consideration. This paper, identified as Working Paper #4 of this week’s GGE, draws on existing State practice to identify potential humanitarian benefits of emerging technologies in the area of LAWS. The examples discussed in the working paper help illustrate the potential of emerging technologies in the area of LAWS to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects.

It is nonetheless important to recall that technology is often applied in innovative ways that are wholly unlike previous applications. Emerging technologies in the area of LAWS could be used to create entirely new capabilities that would increase the ability of States to reduce the risk of civilian casualties in applying force. Rather than trying to stigmatize or ban such emerging technologies, we believe that States should encourage such innovation that furthers the objectives and purposes of the Convention. We should therefore continue to be careful and patient in our discussions. We require a better understanding of what these systems would look like before taking decisions that would prevent the beneficial and appropriate uses of emerging technologies.

Critical to our ability to continue to have a serious and focused discussion on the real issues related to the use of autonomy is the sharing between States of their practice related to challenges they have faced and how those challenges have been addressed. To continue to move our understanding forward in these discussions, the LAWS discussion should be more grounded in reality rather than speculative scenarios. With more a “bottom up” approach, we look forward to progress in August.

Thank you.