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"Article 36"

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ICRAC Delivers Statement to States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons at the UN in Geneva


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Posted on 14 November 2013
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by mbolton


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International Community Must Act Now to Ensure Combat Will Never Be Outsourced to “Killer Robots”! —

I am speaking on behalf of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), a founding NGO member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Since its establishment in 2009, ICRAC has urged the international community to discuss the prohibition of fully autonomous weapons systems – “Killer Robots” – in light of the pressing dangers they pose to global peace and security, in addition to their alarming humanitarian implications for civilians threatened with armed violence.

ICRAC is made up of experts in robotic technology, artificial intelligence, computer science, international security and arms control, ethics and international law. As an indication of our concentration of expertise, over 80% of our members have doctoral or Juris Doctor degrees. As such, ICRAC is available and willing to provide technical expertise to the High Contracting Parties as they engage in further discussions about fully autonomous weapons systems.

ICRAC has coordinated the circulation of a “Scientists Call” to ban fully autonomous weapons systems, signed by more than 270 Computer Scientists, Engineers, Artificial Intelligence experts, Roboticists and professionals from related disciplines in 37 countries, saying: “given the limitations and unknown future risks of autonomous robot weapons technology, we call for a prohibition on their development and deployment. Decisions about the application of violent force must not be delegated to machines.”

ICRAC urges High Contracting Parties to be guided by principles of humanity in its deliberations on existing and emerging weapons technologies –  taking into account considerations of human security, human rights, human dignity, humanitarian law and the public conscience, as well as the justified worries about robotic arms races and proliferation. This means meaningful human deliberation and control over the use of violence must remain the cornerstone of any eventual global policymaking on robotic weapons.

ICRAC welcomes the presentation of the Draft Mandate text enabling the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to convene expert meetings in 2014 to look at the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons systems. ICRAC also welcomes the statements by more than 40 States which have expressed concerns about autonomous weapons systems. We believe the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons represents a useful forum to begin discussions, though dialogue about autonomous weapons systems need not be confined to this body alone. [END OF ORAL VERSION OF STATEMENT]

In light of our concerns, ICRAC respectfully submits the following recommendations to improve and strengthen the proposed Mandate on autonomous weapons systems before the body:

1)      It is not enough to consider only “lethal” autonomous weapons. We urge the body to broaden the Mandate to include consideration of all autonomous weapons systems, given that:

a) Arming autonomous systems with so-called “sub-lethal” or “less-than-lethal” weapons could still cause unnecessary suffering, and

b) Autonomous weapons systems could be potentially destabilizing even if they are only programmed to attack materiel, particularly if such systems interacted with each other in unexpected ways.

2)      By covering only “emerging technologies”, the Mandate may discourage High Contracting Parties from considering the implications of existing precursor autonomous systems that nonetheless raise unsettling humanitarian questions.

3)      While we welcome an Informal Meeting, a Mandate for a Group of Governmental Experts would more clearly send a message of the seriousness of this matter to the High Contracting Parties.

4)      As experts in this field, we believe the legal and ethical complexities of autonomous weapons systems will be difficult to cover adequately in three days. Thus we suggest amending the Draft Mandate to allow for a five (5) day meeting.

Delivered on behalf of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, by:

Matthew Bolton, MSc. (LSE), PhD (LSE).
Membership Secretary, International Committee for Robot Arms Control
Advisor, Article 36
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Pace University New York City.

For a PDF version of this statement, click here.

Video footage of the oral statement at the UN in Geneva is available for download here.


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ICRAC member Dr. Matthew Bolton, presenting a statement on disarmament at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Tuesday. Photo by Shant Alexander for Control Arms.

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ICRAC Member and Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Deliver Statements at the UN General Assembly First Committee


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Posted on 30 October 2013
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by mbolton


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ICRAC member Dr. Matthew Bolton, presenting a statement on disarmament at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Tuesday. Photo by Shant Alexander for Control Arms.

ICRAC member Dr. Matthew Bolton, presenting a statement on disarmament at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Tuesday. Photo by Shant Alexander for Control Arms.

On behalf of global civil society organizations, International Committee for Robot Arms Control member Matthew Bolton calls for disarmament and arms control “driven by the needs and rights of people most affected by armed violence.” The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots also spoke, calling for fully autonomous weapons to “be prohibited through an international treaty, as well as through national laws and other measures.” To watch video footage of the NGO speeches, click here.

Dr. Matthew Bolton, a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC),  addressed the United Nations General Assembly First Committee Tuesday afternoon, on behalf of Article 36 and other international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on disarmament, peacebuilding and humanitarian issues.

“We call for an approach to disarmament that is driven by the needs and rights of people most affected by armed violence, not by the discretion of states and organizations most responsible for it,” said Dr. Bolton to representatives of the 193 UN member states, as well as UN agencies and NGOs. The First Committee has responsibility for disarmament and international security.

The NGO statement, read by Dr. Bolton and endorsed by 11 organizations, congratulated states on “some noteworthy progress” in recent international discussions on the elimination of nuclear weapons, the recent Security Council resolution on small arms and light weapons as well as the Arms Trade Treaty, signed by over 100 states since June.

Despite these developments in global policy making on controlling weapons, however, Dr. Bolton asserted that “now is not the time for resting on laurels.” The NGO statement identified numerous concerns, including the abuse of the consensus rule in disarmament forums, exclusion of meaningful civil society participation, lack of equal opportunities for women in decisionmaking and the marginalization of the voices of victims and survivors of armed violence.

“Creativity and new human-centered approaches must be a requirement for all states advocating nuclear disarmament, conventional arms control and reduced military expenditure,” said Dr. Bolton, reading the NGO statement. “We can and must replace stalemate and watered-down outcomes with alternatives that advance human security and social and economic justice.”

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots also delivered a statement in the same session, calling for a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.

“Our campaign believes that human control is essential to ensure the protection of civilians and to ensure compliance with international law,” said Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, delivering the statement on behalf of the campaign. “We seek a comprehensive and preemptive ban on weapons systems that would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human intervention. These fully autonomous weapons or ‘lethal autonomous robots’ must be prohibited through an international treaty, as well as through national laws and other measures.”

Dr. Bolton is an expert on global disarmament policy and assistant professor of political science at Pace University. He is author of Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance: Governance, Politics and Security in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan (I.B. Tauris, 2010) and a forthcoming travelogue Political Minefields (I.B. Tauris, 2014). He has written widely on the politics of landmines, cluster munitions, the Arms Trade Treaty and fully autonomous military robotics (“killer robots”). He recently co-authored an ICRAC Working Paper on regulating robotic weapons with the Arms Trade Treaty.

ICRAC is an international committee of experts in robotics technology, robot ethics, international relations, international security, arms control, international humanitarian law, human rights law, and public campaigns, concerned about the pressing dangers that military robots pose to peace and international security and to civilians in war.


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546545-armstreaty

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The Role of ICRAC in the Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations


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Posted on 09 April 2013
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by mbolton


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546545-armstreatyLast week the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which will aim to constrain the flow of conventional weapons to states and organizations that threaten peace and security or engage in gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Several members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC)Wim Zwijnenburg of IKV Pax Christi, Thomas Nash and Richard Moyes of Article 36 and Matthew Bolton of Pace University New York City – were engaged in supporting the advocacy work of Control Arms, the global civil society coalition campaigning for a ‘bulletproof’ treaty.

Pushing states to develop text that would cover emerging weapons technologies was a particular emphasis of ICRAC members’ lobbying at the July 2012 and March 2013 Diplomatic Conferences. Many campaigners and diplomats were concerned that the draft treaty did not include specific provisions for ‘unmanned’ weapons, such as aerial drones, or robotic systems that have ‘dual uses.’ A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) raised concerns that the text “looks dangerously likely to be a relic before it ever comes into force.”

Futureproofing

Drawing on technical advice from other ICRAC members, Zwijnenburg and Bolton wrote a policy brief titled “Futureproofing the Draft Arms Trade Treaty” that called on states to make five “critical changes” to the text “in order to cover the emerging class of robotic, ‘unmanned’ and autonomous weapons.” The paper was distributed widely in the conference and online to governments and civil society organizations and was reprinted in Reaching Critical Will’s widely read ATT Monitor newsletter (pp. 3-4). The phrase “futureproofing” caught on and was soon being used widely by Control Arms campaigners, Amnesty International and even the representative of the Holy See.

Not all of the changes suggested in Zwijnenburg and Bolton’s “Futureproofing” paper were made in the final treaty text and it would be disingenuous to overstate ICRAC’s impact. However, by helping to shape and frame the conversation, the policy brief, amplified by Control Arms lobbying, contributed to efforts that changed the treaty text to allow for the future conferences of States Parties to the treaty to review “developments in the field of conventional arms” (Article 17) and adopt amendments by three-quarters vote instead of consensus (Article 20). This means that activists and advocacy organizations will be able to push states to amend the treaty to address developing new weapons technologies. This new text has essentially created a forum in which ICRAC and other stakeholders concerned about emerging weapons technologies can press their case in the future.

What Next?

The next push for campaigners will be to make sure states sign and ratify the ATT, to make it enter into force as quickly as possible. Another important area for advocacy will be to push for a broadening of the categories used by the UN Register of Conventional Weapons. The ATT relies on these categories, which at the moment do not explicitly cover many types of robotic weapons. If civil society can push for states to include unmanned armed systems in this register before the treaty enters into force, the treaty will actually cover a broader scope of weapons.

While the ATT and broadening the UN Register have not been the primary focus of ICRAC’s advocacy, they are establishing important precedents and norms that provide important foundations for the regulation of robotic weapons. Indeed, passing the treaty in a majority vote in the UN General Assembly, instead of consensus, has opened the possibility of developing arms control instruments with high standards, instead of the lowest common denominator.

The ATT is not really a disarmament treaty – it is more of an amalgamation of humanitarian and trade law. Even if it works well, it will only regulate the flows of weapons, not the kind of weapons in circulation. As a result, those who are concerned about the trends toward ‘autonomy’ in robotic weapons, threatening to reduce direct human control over killing, cannot rely on the ATT to prevent this dangerous possibility. This is one of many reasons why ICRAC is part of a growing number of NGOs and faith groups calling for a specific on ban fully autonomous armed robots – “killer robots.”

ICRAC is an international committee of experts in robotics technology, robot ethics, international relations, international security, arms control, international humanitarian law, human rights law, and public campaigns, concerned about the pressing dangers that military robots pose to peace and international security and to civilians in war.


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Civil Society Wins the Discursive Victory, Despite Collapse of Arms Trade Treaty Conference


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Posted on 30 July 2012
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by mbolton


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After a month of procedural wrangling, intense lobbying, heavy campaigning and frantic late night negotiations, the Arms Trade Treaty conference came to a frayed inconclusive end last Friday as skeptical states like China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba, joined by the United States, called for more time to complete what they saw as an incomplete draft.

While disappointed, activists from the civil society campaign Control Arms beleive that by showing up in New York City and engaging in good faith negotiations, the majority of states are beginning to accept the norm stigmatizing the transfer of arms to those who abuse human rights and violate humanitarian law. They are winning the discursive victory, changing the global conversation about the human cost of the market in weapons.

“If there is one thing that has been gained from the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations this month, it is the clarity that there is an unflinching determination by the majority of the world’s nations to ban the transfer of weapons when there’s a substantial risk of human rights and humanitarian law violations,”  Thomas Nash and Matthew Bolton, members of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), said in a statement for the disarmament advocacy group Article 36.  “Even without adoption of the treaty, this norm has been advanced by these negotiations over the past month.”

Nash and Bolton have followed the negotiations closely for this past month and advocated for strong provisions on “unmanned” and robotic weapons to be included in the Treaty.

Control Arms was similarly defiant. “The fight to end the illegal and irresponsible arms trade goes on,” they declared in a statement to the media. “The lack of agreement on a final text was disappointing but not the end of the story. In spite of today’s lack of agreement, momentum is gathering for an international and legally-binding treaty to bring the arms trade under control.”

For a detailed account of the final hours of the Arms Trade Treaty Diplomatic Conference, by ICRAC member Matthew Bolton, click here.


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