Agenda Item 5(b):
Characterization of the systems under consideration in order to promote a common understanding on concepts and characteristics relevant to the objectives and purposes of the Convention
Delivered by Matthew McCormack
1st session of the 2021 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE)
on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS)
August 4, 2021
Thank you for giving me the floor.
I wanted to provide a few comments on agenda item 5(b) to reflect my delegation’s perspective on this important issue.
First, the United States continues to support identifying general characteristics of systems that are under the GGE’s consideration in order to facilitate the GGE’s understanding of the relevant concepts and issues. The United States has explained our perspective that a working definition should not be drafted with a view toward describing weapons that should be banned. This would be – as some colleagues have already noted – very difficult to reach consensus on, and counterproductive. Because there is nothing intrinsic in autonomous capabilities that would make a weapon prohibited under IHL, we are not convinced that prohibiting weapons based on degrees of autonomy, as our French colleagues have suggested, is a useful approach. On the other hand, the GGE’s approach of identifying characteristics provides flexibility that is important given that scientists and engineers continue to develop new technological advancements and that our understanding continues to improve. We appreciate the concern that a number of delegations have raised that we need a definition to make progress. We agree that it is important that we know what systems we are discussing. However, in our view, it is unnecessary for the GGE to adopt a specific working definition of LAWS for the purpose of continuing its further important IHL-related work. IHL applies to the use of all weapons in armed conflict, however defined. Moreover, in these discussions, when people are addressing autonomous weapons, they are generally addressing both a technical capability and a way of using the weapon system. How the weapon is to be used is exactly what IHL already governs, for examples, establishing requirements of distinction, proportionality, and precautions.
I would also like to underline my delegation’s perspective that LAWS or autonomy in weapon systems are not inherently problematic and should not be stigmatized as such. There are many years of practice in using autonomy in weapon systems in compliance with IHL. And, as we’ve previously noted, autonomous functions in weapon systems can be used to create humanitarian benefits, like greater precision or reducing the risk of civilian casualties. I’d in particular make reference to the presentations the United States has provided to this body on a variety of systems, including the Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar system (otherwise known as C-RAM) and others, which evidence this principle. That is not to say that technology poses no risks: but, balancing these potential risks against potential benefits is essential.