At the initiative of France, discussions were launched in 2014 within the UN’s 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to respond to the challenges relating to the potential development of lethal autonomous weapons system (LAWS). LAWS are weapons which have the potential to identify, engage and neutralize a target without any human intervention. While such systems do not exist, the complete autonomy of these weapons may pose a multitude of issues from moral, legal and operational perspectives.
This is why it is necessary to hold a debate on how to deal with these weapons, despite the fact that they are not yet a strategic reality. To be effective, this process must be based on a universal framework which brings together all major military powers. The CCW is an essential instrument of international humanitarian law and a forum which brings together experts with complementary knowledge on humanitarian and security issues making it a good fit.
The consensus achieved within this forum on the guiding principles highlights the progress made in this process as well as its relevance.
The declaration on LAWS, prepared by France and Germany and which was opened for endorsement during the Alliance for Multilateralism event on 26 September 2019, is a snapshot of the ongoing work of the CCW, which uses the 11 guiding principles to provide a framework for the development and usage of autonomous weapons systems.
These principles affirm inter alia that:
- international humanitarian law applies to these systems;
- a human must always be responsible for the decision to use these systems;
- States must examine the legality of these new weapons that they are developing or requiring at the design stage.
- 13-15 November 2019: the next meeting of the CCW High Contracting Parties
- November 2021: CCW five-year review conference
The Principles have now been agreed by consensus within the framework of the Group of International LAWS Experts which includes: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, India, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, United States of America, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela (Bolivar Republic of), Zambia, as well as Egypt (which has signed but not ratified the CCW).