CCW Report, Vol. 10, No. 9

Denial cannot stop the reality of momentum
28 July 2022

Ray Acheson | Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

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At the penultimate day of this year’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on autonomous weapon systems (AWS), states spent most of the afternoon discussing how to best reflect their work this year.

Close followers of the work of the GGE will recall that back in March, at the beginning of the 2022 session, the Russian delegation refused to allow the Group to meet in a formal mode, arguing that it was being “discriminated against” because of travel restrictions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine.

Today, in another CCW edition of “you can’t make this stuff up,” the Russian delegation tried to get the GGE’s report to say that there were no objections to holding most of the March meeting in an informal mode—even though there were actually two days’ worth of objections from almost every other participant. Russia also insisted that the report reflect that the only substantive discussions in 2022 took place on 25 and 26 July. Others pointed out that the GGE discussed substance in March and throughout the July meeting (not to mention the three informal virtual consultations), but Russia said since the discussions in March were informal, they cannot be reflected in the report. Of course, the reason those conversations were informal is because Russia blocked the adoption of the agenda, but when the US delegation tried to suggest mentioning this in the report as way of explanation, Russia of course objected.

This discussion took place against the backdrop of very serious attempt by Russia, backed by India, to undermine civil society’s participation in the GGE, as described in another article in this CCW Report. Furthermore, this attempt by Russia to dismiss the substantive work carried out by the GGE in 2022 also needs to be seen in the wider context of Russia, India, and a few others trying to prevent anything other than a roll-over of the Group’s existing mandate for 2023.

Most participants called for new mandate language to reflect the convergence around a two-tiered approach containing prohibitions and regulations, and several encouraged a reflection that a legally binding instrument has majority support. Most participants also pushed for the GGE to meet for 20 days next year—to which of course Russia also objected.

A handful of states—getting smaller all the time—does not want the GGE to advance and does not want to accurately reflect the work the GGE has done, or the convergence that has been built, or the right of civil society to participate in the Group’s work.

But whatever attempts they make to block or deny progress, momentum for action is building. As Stop Killer Robots said in its statement today,

The majority of states to the CCW are in favor of negotiating new law and we see growing political commitment from government leaders around the world towards this goal. The call for a legally binding instrument has been reflected in the Roadmap proposal and the recent proposal for a new Protocol VI submitted by a diverse group of states, and the additional proposals from Chile, Mexico, and Pakistan made this week, and we see that the number of states calling for legally binding rules continues to increase. It is evident from these conversations, that the longer we discuss the nature of the challenge we are facing, the more states become convinced of the need for new international law to deal with these problems....

The risks posed by autonomy in weapon systems are serious, and we see increasing evidence of their use in contemporary conflicts. These weapons pose grave dangers to all of humanity, particularly marginalized groups, and to human dignity. Unless states act now, autonomous weapon systems will proliferate and start victimizing populations and threaten international peace and security. States must act now, before it is too late.

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