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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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Draft Arms Trade Treaty Omits Explicit Reference to ‘Unmanned’ Weapons


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Posted on 25 July 2012
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by mbolton


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On Tuesday morning, 24 July, the chair of the Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) released his long-awaited draft of an international instrument to regulate the trade in conventional weapons.

Unfortunately, as I explain in my commentary piece for Global Policy today, the draft treaty is…well…drafty. There are several major holes in the text that give states considerable room for maneuver at the expense of efforts to reduce human suffering in armed conflict.

In particular, the Scope of the ATT has been narrowed from some of the committee drafts, which aimed to regulate ‘all conventional arms, either manned or unmanned’ to the seven categories of arms covered by the UN Register on Conventional Weapons plus small arms and light weapons. The explicit reference to ‘unmanned’ weapons has disappeared and there are weak provisions for controlling technological systems with both potential dual uses — that could be weaponized. It is thus unclear whether the treaty would apply to Predator drones that have not yet been fitted with missiles.

If it passes, this draft ATT could establish norms against dealing arms — robotic or otherwise — to abusers of human rights and and humanitarian law. However, its lack of strong provisions in the Scope could also stymie efforts to regulate and constrain the  robotic weapons that are becoming increasingly popular in the military forces of industrialized countries.

UPDATE 30 July 2012: On 26 July, the chair of the conference released an updated draft of the treaty text, but it also failed to include strong provisions for unmanned systems, particularly dual use ones like drones. The next day, the conference collapsed as the US, Russia, China and a few authoritarian states stalled the negotiations. There is still a chance that a treaty, based on the draft text, will pass in the next year, but the exact shape of the Treaty and process for adoption is, as of  today, unclear.

Matthew Bolton, Department of Political Science, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Pace University New York City.


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