UK & US blocking ban on killer robots – experts

© Jim Watson
United Nations attempts to control the use of current and future autonomous war machines are being undermined by the UK and US in an attempt to rewrite the terms of the agreement, experts claim.

There are also fears that by delaying the agreement for years, those invested in developing robot weapons will have the killer robot technology before laws come into force, meaning it will be extremely difficult to keep in check.

There is indeed a danger now that [the process] may get stuck,” said Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told The Guardian.

A lot of money is going into development and people will want a return on their investment. If there is not a preemptive ban on the high-level autonomous weapons then once the genie is out of the bottle it will be extremely difficult to get it back in,” he said.

The issue hinges on the wording of the agreement. China wants to address both “existing and emerging technologies,” whereas the UK and US want only “existing” weaponry to be included.

The UK and US are both insisting that the wording for any mandate about autonomous weapons should discuss only emerging technologies,” Professor Noel Sharkey, co-founder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, told the Guardian.

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Ostensibly this is because there is concern that … we will want to ban some of their current defensive weapons like the Phalanx or the Iron Dome.

However, if the discussions go on for several years as they seem to be doing, many of the weapons that we are concerned about will already have been developed and potentially used,” Sharkey said.

There is currently no internationally agreed definition of what constitutes a lethal autonomous weapons system.

The UK was among 120 countries to attend the Convention on Conventional Weapons summit in Geneva on April 13-17.

The Foreign Office told The Guardian at the time: “At present, we do not see the need for a prohibition on the use of [lethal autonomous weapons systems], as international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area.

The United Kingdom is not developing lethal autonomous weapons systems, and the operation of weapons systems by the UK armed forces will always be under human oversight and control.