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Convention on CCW GGE: Possible Options for Addressing Challenges Posed by LAWS
March 28, 2019

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS
Possible Options for Addressing Challenges Posed by LAWS

Geneva, March 27, 2019

Charles Trumbull (as prepared)

Mr. Chair,

We, like all States, desire a successful outcome to this GGE. We have sought to contribute to a successful outcome by participating actively in these discussions, including with representatives from our Defense Department and The submission of Several working papers. We also appreciate that other delegations have Similarly engaged constructively with working papers, relevant Defense experts, and thoughtful interventions.  But, we need to be both realistic and prudent in determining what constitutes success.  Although we have made significant progress over the past several years under your and Ambassador Gill’s leadership, we have only begun to obtain the “granularity” that you have referred to on several occasions. Yet, this granularity is incredibly important for understanding the range of challenges posed by emerging technologies in the area of LAWS, including both the potential risks and the potential benefits of these new technologies.

A number of States have expressed a desire to commence negotiations on a legally binding instrument to either ban LAWS or impose a requirement for certain levels of human control.  We cannot support such an outcome at this time.  First, it is clear that there are significant differences of view on the definition or characteristics of LAWS, on relevant concepts and terms such as the meaning of “control”, And more fundamentally on how existing IHL regulates the use of autonomous weapons.

For example, as we explained in our interventions and papers, the emphasis on “control” can obscure rather than clarify the genuine challenges in this area. Australia’s working paper Was also helpful illustratInG that the phrase “human control” does not adequately Account for the number of practical controls or systems utilized by States and their militaries.

Second, as we and other States have noted, we should not seek to stigmatize technology. Advances in autonomy-related technologies have the potential to provide humanitarian benefits in warfare, including by enhancing IHL compliance and reducing the risks to civilians.  Seeking to develop new standards and regulations for these emerging technologies, based on current assumptions about how they may develop or be used in the future, is unwise and potentially counter-productive. For example, as our UK colleagues observed, emerging technologies could be used to address humanitarian concerns that have been raised with respect the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. For its part, the U.S. military is actively exploring ways emerging technologies can be used for humanitarian purposes.  For example, the U.S. DEpartment of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is working to use AI to help first responders effectively respond to hurricans and forest fires.

We do not support negotiating a political declaration at this time for similar reasons.  We must be careful and patient in our deliberations.  Our energy must be focused on genuinely engaging in discussions of the relevant concepts, rather than political negotiations over a text.  We must reach greater shared understanding of the particular concern to be addressed before seeking to negotiate a solution.  From our perspective, it is not clear that the concerns raised regarding the use of autonomous functions in warfare cannot be adequately addressed through rigorous application of existing IHL obligations.

Mr. Chair, I want to emphasize that this GGE adopted a very substantive report in 2018 that included ten [possible] guiding principles for future work on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.  We believe these guiding principles provided greater substance than what could be achieved through the negotiation of a political declaration. This is because these principles developed organically through non-politicized expert discussion.  This inductive approach, we believe, has the potential to continue to yield a valuable outcome.  We believe that the GGE should build on the work from 2018 and seek to further refine or expand upon these guiding principles. In particular, the focus on IHL in this year’s discussions provides an excellent basis for further elaboration of the guiding principles.

In addition, the United States has generally supported non-politicized exchanges of State practice on IHL issues.

We are interested in further considering proposals for the GGE to identify and compile existing legal obligations and good practice on implementing IHL obligations in this context.

In particular, there has been significant discussion of the weapons review process over the course of the GGE, and this could be an issue on which States could further discuss and share good practices.  In this regard, we note that not all CCW States Parties are parties to the 1977 additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and it seems that even among States parties to that instrument more robust implementation of Article 36 is possible.  We observed that several delegations suggested further work in the area of weapons review and in particular appreciated the proposal submitted by Argentina.  We would welcome the opportunity to focus discussions on good practices for conducting reviews of weapons, including weapons with autonomous functions.