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U.S. Delegation Statement on Possible Policy Options
August 29, 2018

Meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems
U.S. Delegation Statement on Possible Policy Options
Delivered by Josh Dorosin,
Deputy Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State
Geneva, August 29, 2018

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

These are complex issues. As we have seen over the April session and the past several days, States have offered a number of different proposals regarding characteristics and human-machine interaction.  There is no consensus on key issues, such as the human element in the use of force. Some delegations refer to the need to maintain “meaningful” or “sufficient” human control over weapons systems, yet it is unclear what this would entail in the various contexts in which weapons may be used or at the various touch points, and delegations seem to have different views on these questions.  The United States has explained in our working papers and intervention why we believe the term “human control” risks obscuring the genuine challenges in human-machine interaction.  Instead, the United States has stressed the need to ensure that force is used to effectuate human intentions, including by ensuring that appropriate levels of human judgment can be exercised over the use of force.

We are making progress in developing a better understanding of the human element in the use of force that is an essential part of human-machine interaction, but it is clear that more work is required. Developing more of a common understanding of those concepts is a prerequisite to moving forward on any particular instrument, whether legally binding or non-binding.

We should be responsible and deliberate in moving forward in our continued consideration of particular policy outcomes.  Scientists and engineers, especially in the private sector, are making rapid developments in these types of technologies, and experience has proven the perils of attempting to prematurely regulate emerging technologies.  Outcomes should be focused on addressing specific and identifiable concerns, rather than on theoretical ones.  Otherwise, we risk prohibiting technologies or applications that could serve valuable humanitarian purposes.  Under your stewardship, we have had a valuable opportunity in April and in this week’s Group of Governmental Experts to bring experts from around the world together to promote an open and transparent discussion of these complex issues to address the concerns that have been raised by our publics.  We have not yet heard any delegation identify a weapon system that would cause superfluous injury or be inherently indiscriminate.  To the contrary, the presentations on existing weapons have shown how autonomous features can better effectuate the commanders intent and make the use of force more discriminate.

For these and other reasons, we believe it is premature to enter into negotiations on a legally binding instrument, a political declaration, a code of conduct, or other similar instrument, and we cannot support a mandate to enter into such negotiations.  We do, however, fully support continued discussion in the CCW and in this GGE on the challenges and benefits posed by emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.

Our proposal for 2019 would be the following:

We support extending the current discussion mandate for another year, as we believe that the mandate is sufficiently flexible to continue substantive discussions on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS, as well as continued discussions on potential outcomes.

As noted above, continuing these discussions within a Group of Governmental Experts will allow High Contracting Parties, civil society, academic institutions and others to bring together the military, technical, legal and other expertise necessary to consider the wide range of issues that are implicated in this complex issue.

We propose focusing discussion on three areas.

First, we should discuss current and anticipated applications of autonomy in weapons systems. In our view, discussing existing weapons systems, such as the system presented by the Swedish delegation, is helpful in identifying both the potential benefits and challenges presented by this technology.  A stocktaking of existing systems and uses of autonomy in weapon systems will allow States to ensure that any proposed outcomes would not be counterproductive.  Similarly, States that wish to ban LAWS could provide examples of the systems that they believe pose problems and explain why they find these systems inherently problematic.

Second, we would like to focus on how customary IHL, including IHL’s fundamental principles, applies to the use of weapons with autonomous functions.  We believe it is important to establish a common understanding of the IHL principles and rules that apply to weapons with autonomous features in order to better understand whether additional policy or legal outcomes might be warranted.  All delegations seem to support the principle that all weapons, including LAWS, must be used in compliance with IHL and that there must be accountability for weapons use.  However, there appear to be a range of views as to whether LAWS could be used in compliance with IHL, what IHL requires with respect to LAWS, and how principles of accountability would apply to the potential use of LAWS.  States should be prepared to discuss and share their legal views on these questions.

Third, we propose further discussions on what practical measures States take in the development, deployment, and use of autonomous weapons to ensure that their use is in compliance with applicable IHL.  An open of exchange of States’ domestic policies and regulations, such as States’ legal reviews of new weapons, or the policy review and processes in DoDD 3000.09 that we have presented, would be extremely beneficial in identifying common approaches or concerns, as well as in sharing lessons learned, with respect to the development, deployment, and use of weapons with autonomous functions.   The sharing of best practices could result in concrete, real-world benefits.

Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to respond to the suggestion made by our colleague from the Netherlands that we consider the establishment of a Group of Technical Experts by observing that this Group of Governmental Experts has already been established to provide an opportunity for exactly this type of expert level consideration and exchange of views.  Rather than consider the establishment of a new body, we would recommend that we use this body to the fullest extent under our existing mandate to continue to explore these important issues.

We look forward to continuing our work on these complex issues, and thank you for your leadership as chair of this GGE.