UN GGE on LAWS: Day 3 (afternoon)

27 Mar 2019 01:00h

Event report

This session considered item 5(e): Possible options for addressing the humanitarian and international security challenges posed by emerging technologies in the area of LAWS in the context of the objectives and purposes of the CCW without prejudiced policy outcomes and taking into account the past, present, and future proposals

The discussion was guided by the following questions:  .

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed approaches to ensuring compliance with IHL and responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems and the use of force?

    • legally binding instrument;

    • political declaration;

    • guidelines, principles or codes of conduct; and

    • improving implementation of the existing legal requirements, including legal reviews of weapons.

  • Given that these options are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and the common goal of ensuring compliance with IHL and maintaining human responsibility for the use of force, what are possible next steps to be taken by the GGE?  

  • How can the GGE build upon the areas of convergence captured in the Possible Guiding Principles agreed in 2018? How can those principles be operationalised?

A delegation supplemented its points from the previous day and added concrete examples in order to foster a better understanding of its positions. Some have considered that the GGE should establish standards for LAWS (i.e. tolerable levels of unpredictability, autonomy). In their opinion, this would only be possible if the GGE was composed of technical experts and if the delegations had the appropriate technical understanding about these issues. The delegation further believes that more discussions would be useful to identify how IHL applies to newly developed weapons. They explained that in their national reviews, IHL assessment is already implemented in weapons acquisition processes wherein weapon reviews test the effectiveness and survivability among other criteria. An example from 2015 about the performance testing of ANTPQ53 (a counter-battery radar which can direct artillery fire to the place where enemy mortar attacks originate from) was then provided. The Internet link of the review will be provided to interested parties. They explained that the acquisition of this system also entailed a particular legal review in the process. The assessment includes a distinction between military objects, civilians, military forces and objects. The data used for that system was collected between 2012 and 2015.

The review found that the radar acquired targeted quite well but did have difficulties distinguishing between mortar and shells. False target occurrence gave off warnings in the situation where no threat was present. The DoD regulation makes sure that the weapon operates in a tolerable limit of mistakes.

Another delegation explained that there are two criteria used to determine the lawfulness of weapons: its intended use and proportionality. LAWS’ lawfulness therefore depends on the operationalibility in which they work. However, today’s conflicts are mostly fought in cities and involve many civilians. Therefore, compliance with IHL would be extremely difficult for automated systems that do not rely on human oversight. Additionally, they noted that the law applies to humans and not to machines. Moreover, according to the principles of international law, states continue to be responsible for the development and use of autonomous systems. In this view, the lawfulness of weapons thus has to be determined by its intended use and additional legal review systems would be necessary in order to adequately assess LAWS.

Other delegations welcomed the proposal calling for the start of negotiations on a binding instrument.

A delegation reminded the participants of the experiences regarding the ban of cluster ammunition which became part of IHL in 2010, which has had effects even on countries which did not ratify the treaty. They noted that IHL is not static and underlined that prior to the ban of cluster ammunition, no treaties to preventively prohibit the use of specific weapons had been signed. The delegation called upon states to undertake weapons reviews and to improve the review processes worldwide. It was further noted that before the treaty to ban cluster ammunition, IHL was not enough to cover that type of weapon, and so, it is very unlikely that IHL would be enough to cover LAWS, as well as any new and unknown systems. Art. 36 on its own was deemed insufficient, thus a negotiating mandate of the GGE was fully welcomed.

An intervention from the floor emphasised that weapon reviews are necessary but not enough. They noted that it will become increasingly difficult for commanders to understand systems and whether the use of LAWS is lawful in a specific context. With additional processes, Art. 36 reviews can be improved.

The Chair explained that a report summarising the issue is expected and so the issue will be further discussed in the following days.