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Convention on CCW Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS
December 3, 2021

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on emerging technologies in the area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS)

Opening Statement

As Delivered by Joshua Dorosin

December 2, 2021

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Let me first thank you and your team for all your work in preparing for this meeting and throughout this year. It is good to see so many colleagues again, but we also regret that the COVID variant has prohibited the participation of many experts from capital. We also want to express our gratitude to Ambassador Yann Hwang for organizing and hosting the Evian retreat to support the work of the GGE.

We appreciate your efforts in presenting a draft report for discussion. Although we will offer specific line edits as we walk through the draft, we wanted to make two general comments on substance and two comments on the way forward.

First, the United States seeks a robust, substantive outcome for this GGE to be presented to the Review Conference. It is essential that this outcome captures the substantial existing body of consensus work that this GGE has done over the past several years in formulating principles and practices that States can implement to promote responsible behavior related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS. We appreciate some of the good paragraphs already part of the Chair’s draft in furtherance of this goal, which could form the basis of such an outcome.

Second, while we want a substantive outcome, we have also been very clear, including in the two prior GGE sessions, on what we cannot accept and we have explained in detail the reasons for our opposition. In this regard, we were disappointed that the draft report continues to include concepts on which there is clearly no consensus within the GGE, which are subject to diverging interpretations, and which are not part of existing IHL. This includes the proposed articulation of “sufficient human control” in the draft. We heard at the GGE in September a number of significant concerns with this section of the Chair’s paper, and we remain of the view that sufficient human control – however it might be defined or understood – may be one available means to achieve IHL compliance, but it is not an end or a legal requirement in and of itself. Similarly, we have consistently expressed our opposition to the formulation of new, categorical limitations on targets, duration, and scope. While we will offer some specific suggestions on how to move forward with this General Commitments section of the draft report, we want to emphasize that it will be far more productive to build on areas in which this GGE has reached consensus than to re-hash the same arguments on issues on which there is clearly no consensus.

Third, we want to better understand the Chair’s vision for how this proposed political declaration will be developed. It would be ideal for the Review Conference to take what the GGE has negotiated, verbatim, and to adopt that at the Review Conference. This approach would be consistent with the practice of the GGE in past years, when the GGE has made recommendations to the Meeting of High Contracting Parties – for example, with the Guiding Principles. We do not believe it is prudent to leave matters for the Review Conference to negotiate. The RevCon will need to address a number of issues beyond LAWS in a brief period of time. Leaving further negotiations on LAWS for the RevCon risks reopening consensus language agreed by the GGE participants, and also risks not having the best experts for such a negotiation in the room when they are needed most.

We must reflect in our consensus recommendations to the Review Conference the valuable work that this GGE has already done over the past several years. This work can give States guidance on principles and practices that they can implement. One practical way to do this is to incorporate as much previously agreed language as possible in the draft report: we regret that the Chair has not taken this advice from many States at our last two GGE meetings. The previously agreed language was often very carefully negotiated and even what may appear to be minor changes to it may be problematic for some delegations. We recommend that the Chair include the work that we’ve done over the years to demonstrate the progress that the GGE has achieved and also be efficient with our limited time by using previously agreed language to the greatest extent possible.

Finally, we are concerned with the Chair’s proposal in the draft report for the GGE’s new mandate. In particular, the language mandating the GGE to “negotiate an instrument” is not something that we can accept at this stage. Although ambiguity in the nature of such an instrument might seem attractive to some, we think it would cause paralysis and politicization that would set the GGE up for failure, especially given our extensive debates and lack of consensus on the issue of a legally binding instrument. And, on that issue, the United States position is well known. We need to be realistic and to set up future GGE’s for success.

We recommend that our new mandate continue to provide needed flexibility and recognize that this issue is an evolving one. We are all familiar with how the software on our phones and computers is constantly updated. Emerging technologies will continue to be developed and people’s relationship with them and their understanding of them will also continue to evolve. For the United States, this is one reason we believe it is important to proceed in an incremental and methodical manner. We need to build a strong foundation if our work is to stand the test of time.

We believe that the best way to make progress is through the development of a non-binding Code of Conduct, which would both strengthen and build upon the significant work that has been accomplished thus far. Such a Code would help States promote responsible behavior and compliance with international law. It could also provide an updateable vehicle through with the GGE could continue its work, further elaborating aspects of the Code and sharing practices in its implementation, without prejudice to other efforts. We will discuss this proposal in greater detail later in the GGE session.

With those initial general comments in mind, we look forward to working with you and other delegations to make as much progress as possible this week and next week on the draft report, so we can lay the groundwork for a productive and successful Review Conference.

Thank you.