Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Consensus Approach Blocks Progress on Killer Robots Treaty

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Efforts to prohibit and regulate autonomous weapons systems in the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) forum fell short last month due to obstacles to achieving consensus. Civil society is now calling upon states to address the challenges posed by killer robots in an alternative forum. This month, states and civil society are testing the ability of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to deal adequately with the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Despite the challenges, civil society has ensured that humanitarian disarmament concerns remain a major topic of discussion.

Ousman Noor, wearing a blue shirt and red tie, speaks into the microphone in a UN meeting room. The image is overlayed with a quote from his statement: "New technologies continue to be developed and used in conflict with serious consequences for all of humanity...We are now entering the 9th year of discussions on this issue at the UN. After the failure among states to agree a way forward at the 6th Review Conference in December, the CCW has already lost serious credibility as an appropriate forum to deal with this issue."
Ousman Noor of Stop Killer Robots delivers a statement at the
Convention on Conventional Weapons meeting in July 2022. Credit: Stop Killer Robots, 2022.

In case you missed it:

  • On June 28, UNICEF released the report 25 Years of Children and Armed Conflict: Taking Action to Protect Children in War. The report examines the impact of armed conflict on children and how the UN has engaged with state and non-state actors to stop grave violations. It concludes with recommendations for concrete actions to protect children from the harmful impacts of armed conflict.
  • On June 29, Malawi ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), becoming the 66th state party to the treaty.
  • The Conflict and Environment Observatory and Zoï Environment Network published the first in a series of briefings on the environmental consequences of the war in Ukraine. This briefing dealt with the radiation risks posed by damage to nuclear sites.
  • The year’s third and final meeting the CCW’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapons systems took place at the UN in Geneva from July 25-29. Discussions centered around numerous state proposals for a new international framework to govern these weapons systems, but due to the CCW’s reliance on consensus, the final report presented no substantive recommendations regarding such measures. The Stop Killer Robots campaign lamented that following nine years of discussions, it was clear that progress towards prohibition or regulation of lethal autonomous weapons systems within the CCW framework remained impossible. The campaign urged states to turn to a new forum to protect against the challenges posed by these emerging weapon systems. Further information about the GGE can be found in Reaching Critical Will’s CCW Report.
  • The Stop Killer Robots campaign has also launched a Parliamentary Pledge to encourage legislators to play a leadership role in “reject[ing] the automation of killing and ensur[ing] meaningful human control over the use of force.” The pledge commits parliamentarians to support efforts to negotiate a new treaty on autonomous weapons systems.
  • The 10th Review Conference of the NPT began on August 1 at the UN in New York and will continue through August 26. During the general exchange of views in the first week of the conference, most states parties expressed determination to fulfill the treaty’s objectives and obligations. Nonetheless, states also acknowledged important challenges, including increased investments in nuclear weapons, new threats to use nuclear weapons, and the failure of the nuclear-armed states to comply with their nuclear disarmament obligations. While some states continue to espouse the rhetoric of nuclear deterrence as a security measure, others called out such sentiments as “delusional” or as undermining the goals of the treaty. Reaching Critical Will’s NPT News in Review will be posting reports and analysis from the conference throughout the month.

The Eighth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty will take place at the Centre International de Conférences Genève from August 22-26. The 10th Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be held at the UN in Geneva from August 30 to September 2.

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