Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Strengthened Resolve on Killer Robots and Nuclear Weapons

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative 

States and civil society showed strengthened resolve last month to adopt strong regulations of autonomous weapons systems and to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean doubled down on calls for a legally binding international instrument with prohibitions and regulations on autonomous weapons systems. A large coalition of civil society organizations presented to the prime minister of Japan its recommendations for the G7 on achieving a nuclear weapons-free world. These calls to action are becoming more urgent as countries develop autonomous weapons systems in the absence of specific, dedicated international regulation and the risks of the use of nuclear weapons continue to grow.

11 people stand side by side in front of a G7 banner and Japanese flag. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands in the middle of the group. Two of the people are holding a poster.
On April 12, 2023, C7 representatives present to Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a communiqué that includes a call for a nuclear weapons-free world. Credit: Takayuki Shukunobe | Social Good Photography, Inc., 2023. 

In case you missed it: 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on March 25 that Russia had struck a deal to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. US officials announced on March 28 that the United States was ceasing its nuclear weapons data exchange with Russia following Russia’s suspension and non-compliance with the New START Treaty. The International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) noted that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) prohibits hosting nuclear weapons on another country’s territory.
  • On March 25, at the XXVIII Ibero-American Summit held in the Dominican Republic, the heads of state of the 22 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Americas issued a special statement concerning the impacts of autonomous weapons. The leaders called for states to take action, among other things, to “promote the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument, with prohibitions and regulations regarding autonomy in weapons systems.” Two days later, the eight member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) issued a joint statement at their LXXXIX Meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs endorsing the Belén Communiqué of the Latin American and the Caribbean Conference of Social and Humanitarian Impact of Autonomous Weapons. The member states committed to “redouble efforts towards the urgent negotiation of a legally binding instrument” governing autonomous weapons systems.
  • Norwegian People’s Aid published the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor 2022 on March 29. The Monitor reports that at the beginning of 2023, there was a slight decrease in the total global inventory of nuclear warheads to about 12,512, but a small increase in the inventory of warheads that are available for use to 9,576. Although the nine nuclear-armed states and 35 non-nuclear-armed states took actions last year that were not compatible with the TPNW, the treaty gained momentum, including with regard to the positive obligations. Currently, the TPNW has 68 states parties and 27 signatories, and 45 other states have expressed support for the treaty. 
  • April 4 marked the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) observed the day by launching the campaign “Mine Action Cannot Wait,” which includes an online multimedia exhibition, to highlight the decades of mine contamination in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and to draw attention to recent mine use around the world. The UN secretary-general issued a message calling attention to the legacy of landmines left in the ground and urging UN member states to ratify and fully implement the Mine Ban Treaty. A calendar of other events in observance of the day is available on the UNMAS website here.
  • On April 12, leaders of the Civil 7 (C7), comprised of representatives from civil society organizations from over 70 countries, met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and handed over the C7 Communiqué. The communiqué contains the C7’s recommendations for the G7, including recommendations on actions the G7 should take to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world. The G7, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the European Union, will meet in Hiroshima, Japan, from May 19-21.

The Second Informal Preparatory Meeting for the Ninth Conference of the States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty will take place from May 9-12 in Geneva. The Fifth Review Conference to the Chemical Weapons Convention will take place from May 15-19 in The Hague. The second session of the 2023 Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems will take place on those same dates in Geneva.