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author: Barbara Rosen Jacobson

Searching for Meaningful Human Control. The April 2018 Meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (Briefing Paper #10)

2018

In this briefing paper, Ms Barbara Rosen Jacobson analyses the debate of the April 2018 meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The group was established to discuss emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS).

She finds that:

    • The meeting built on the conclusions and recommendations of the November 2017 session where states agreed on the applicability of international humanitarian law (IHL) and the responsibility of states for the deployment of LAWS.
    • Addressing remaining issues of contention, the meeting attempted to provide a deeper understanding of the characteristics of LAWS, as well as the necessary degree of meaningful human control in their development and use.
    • There seems to be a growing consensus about the necessity of meaningful human control in the critical functions of LAWS, i.e. selecting and engaging a target, although the concept of ‘meaningful’ remains undefined.
    • There is a need for accountability throughout the life cycle of an autonomous weapon, from its development to its use, although there is still a lack of clarity on the distinct responsibilities of different actors involved in the development and use of LAWS.
    • Several different policy options were discussed – strengthening Article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, issuing a political declaration, or establishing a legally binding instrument – and while delegates did not agree on a preferred mechanism, there was a growing sense that the policy options are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
    • The GGE managed to allow for a deeper understanding of the potential risks (and benefits) of LAWS and there was some convergence of views on concepts such as meaningful human control. Yet, many issues of divergence remain, such as the scope of a definition or the need for a pre-emptive ban – which will have to be addressed in the August 2018 meeting, which is expected to result in a set of recommendations.

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