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Second Session in 2023 of the GGE on Emerging Technologies in the Area of LAWS
May 15, 2023

Second Session in 2023 of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS)

Opening Statement

U.S. Delegation – delivered by Joshua Dorosin

May 15, 2023

Thank you, Mr. Chair. We wanted to begin by thanking you, your team and the ISU for your skilled leadership and organization of our March session and of this week’s session. We also want to express our appreciation for your work during the intersessional period, and in particular for circulating the draft report well in advance of this session and for an indicative timetable that provides ample time for negotiating the report. Having sufficient time this week to discuss the conclusions in the draft report is critical to fulfilling our mandate, part of which is to “elaborate, by consensus, possible measures … and other options related to the normative and operational framework.”

Our delegation would have preferred a more ambitious outcome in line with the approach taken by the revised joint proposal submitted by the United States and our co-sponsors. And in this connection we are pleased to welcome Poland as a co-sponsor along with Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom and our delegation. At the same time, we think your draft provides a good basis for negotiation and we will engage constructively this week to achieve a substantive outcome.

Mr. Chair, the GGE has the opportunity this week to reach consensus on a report that represents the GGE starting to issue concrete guidance for States to implement in their national practice. This would be an important step forward. Although there remain divergences about what form those measures should take and what all those measures should be, for the GGE to adopt a report that addresses measures would represent significant progress.

When we think about what the GGE has accomplished, our delegation believes we already have a good story to tell. Through the GGE’s work over the past several years, we have shared national practice and views and promoted common understandings and dialogue between States with diverse perspectives on cutting edge military, technological, and legal issues. This is a success story for multilateralism, and we continue to believe that the CCW offers a unique forum in which all States and civil society can participate. But after our work this week, we will hopefully have begun writing a new chapter of the story. In this draft report, the GGE is developing guidance for States — measures that would strengthen the implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and promote responsible behavior by States. To borrow your analogy of the convoy, we hope that this week we are able to seize on the opportunity before us and continue sailing in this new direction by adopting a report along the lines that you have proposed.

I will now offer four general, thematic points on the substance of the report, and our overall views on the mandate. We will of course offer more detailed points later in the week.

One theme is that the report must be legally accurate and precise. One example of this is the use of the word “must”, a term also noted by the delegation of India. My delegation can accept the word “must”; in fact, we’ve used it in our revised joint proposal. But, it is critical to ground any “must” language in the requirements of existing IHL. If the report is not reflecting an existing legal requirement, the word “must” will be very difficult for my delegation to accept; as noted by the delegation of India, in those cases it will be important to identify non-binding terminology that clearly allows us to distinguish between existing legal requirements and other measures.

A second theme is that we should be as clear and specific as possible in articulating measures. If we want States to implement these measures effectively and in a way that is consistent from State to State, then we need to move beyond labels and dig into the details of specific prohibitions, regulations, and other measures. For example, what does it mean to say that weapon systems must be “sufficiently predictable, reliable, understandable and explainable, and traceable”? These are not terms in existing IHL. However, some of the concepts underlying these terms may support compliance with IHL. For example, our revised joint proposal tries to get at some of these underlying concepts with more specificity and with terminology reflected in existing IHL. It is important for my delegation that the GGE avoid vague, overarching terminology that is not part of existing IHL, and instead adopt more detailed concepts that States can readily implement to strengthen their implementation of IHL.

A third theme is the “two-tier” approach. We have an opportunity in this report to bring greater clarity to existing prohibitions on weapons that by their nature are incapable of being used in compliance with IHL. We also have an opportunity to strengthen the implementation of IHL governing the use of weapons.

Fourth, for the United States it is important that the GGE craft realistic and practical measures that are informed by existing State practice in using autonomy in weapon systems. For the United States, we understand the weapons systems that can select and engage targets, along the lines of what are described in paragraph 19, as including existing weapon systems that have been fielded for many years without legal controversy. We do not think it is appropriate to develop new requirements for these systems that haven’t previously been viewed as necessary or appropriate. For example, with respect to paragraph 23, there are many existing weapon systems that the operators are unable to interrupt, disable, or otherwise control after activating the system. These systems are consistent with IHL and fielded by many States.

Turning to the mandate, in our view it would be wise to exhaust our discussion on the report’s conclusions before focusing on the GGE’s recommendations for CCW Parties on the GGE’s mandate for next year. The GGE’s mandate will be directly related to the substantive progress on the measures that we are able to achieve this week. The more substantive consensus we can achieve, the more ambitious we can be about our work next year.

With that point in mind, I did want to offer an initial reaction to your proposal regarding the mandate. We like that your proposal for a mandate refines the existing GGE mandate. While we are open to considering revisions to the mandate, it is important to note that the GGE’s existing mandate has been flexible enough to permit work on any number of outcomes, and it has also been successful in stimulating rich dialogue and hopefully, consensus measures, through the submissions of proposals. Just last week, as noted this morning by the delegation of Argentina, we received a proposal for a legally binding instrument from a number of delegations. Thus, we think that refining and focusing our existing mandate, as your draft proposes, is the correct approach rather than starting with entirely new language for a mandate.

The concept of proposals has been a very useful tool for our work this year and last year to help the GGE make progress. Is there a similar construct that would help structure our work next year? We’re still thinking about this, but we encourage you and all delegations to consider how the mandate might structure our work to give the GGE and the Chair next year the best possible chance of achieving a robust outcome.

Mr. Chair, we again express our delegation’s thanks for your efforts and commit to engage in a constructive spirit this week in the hopes that we can achieve a substantive consensus report that advances our work on measures to guide States in this area. Thank you.