The Holy See is among a growing number of states seeking to ban fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said in a new report.
Joining the Holy See are 29 other states including Argentina, Austria, Mexico, and Pakistan in a list compiled by HRW in their new report “Stopping Killer Robots: Country Positions on Banning Fully Autonomous Weapons and Retaining Human Control.”
HRW said that weapons systems that select and engage targets without meaningful human control, known as killer robots, are unacceptable and need to be prevented.
The group’s 55-page report reviews the policies of the 97 countries that have publicly elaborated their views on killer robots since 2013.
HRW said that the vast majority regard human control and decision-making as critical to the acceptability and legality of weapons systems. Most of these countries have expressed their desire for a new treaty to retain human control over the use of force, including 30 that explicitly seek to ban fully autonomous weapons.
“Removing human control from the use of force is now widely regarded as a grave threat to humanity that, like climate change, deserves urgent multilateral action,” said Mary Wareham, HRW’s arms division advocacy and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “An international ban treaty is the only effective way to deal with the serious challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons.”
HRW said that nations have participated in the eight Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems from 2014 to 2019. Austria, Brazil, and Chile have proposed negotiations on a legally binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions of weapons systems.
However, HRW pointed out that a small number of military powers — most notably Russia and the United States — have blocked progress towards regulation, while they also invest heavily in the military applications of artificial intelligence and developing air, land, and sea-based autonomous weapons systems. Decisions at the CCW are by consensus, which allows just a few or even a single country to block an agreement sought by a majority.
The report said that China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States are investing heavily in the development of various autonomous weapons systems, while Australia, Turkey, and other countries are also making investments.
Holy See’s actions
In their report, HRW outlined the Holy See’s actions concerning fully autonomous weapons over the past decade.
“In November 2013, the Holy See expressed grave ethical concerns over the inability of pre-programmed, automated technical systems to make moral judgments over life and death, respect human rights, and comply with the principles of humanity. It regards killer robots to be ‘a weapon system capable of identifying, selecting and triggering action on a target without human supervision’,” the report said.
“The Holy See called for lethal autonomous weapons systems to be prohibited in May 2014, citing the precedent provided by the preemptive ban on blinding lasers, and warning of their potential to ‘increase the dehumanization of warfare’,” the report said.
“The Holy See provided the CCW with a ten-page statement in April 2015 outlining its ethical objections to lethal autonomous weapons systems. The Holy See participated in every CCW meeting on killer robots in 2014-2019.”