Killer Robots Now Officially on Global Policymaking Agenda

•15 November 2013 • Leave a Comment

This afternoon states party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed to open discussions on the emerging class of autonomous weapons systems — “killer robots” — which would operate independent of direct human control. I delivered a statement yesterday to the meeting of states, held at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva, on behalf of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a founding member NGO of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

This represents a remarkable achievement for the advocates, activists and academics who have been working tirelessly to wake up the international community to the dangerous implications of outsourcing violence to machines. It seems like science fiction, perhaps, but it is a real threat.

Congratulations campaigners!

Using the Arms Trade Treaty to Control Robotic Weapons

•8 November 2013 • Leave a Comment

In a post today for Control Arm’s new blog, Wim Zwijnenburg of IKV Pax Christi and I outline strategies for using  the Arms Trade Treaty to stem the potential flow of robotic weapons like drones to armed groups that abuse human rights and commit war crimes. However, we also argue that the Arms Trade Treaty will only be as good as its implementation — it is incumbent on concerned states and civil society to ensure the treaty is applied rigorously and  to the broadest range of conventional weapons possible.

Read the full article here.


US Landmine Policy Review: Supposedly Ending “Soon”, Still Stalled for Now

•7 November 2013 • Leave a Comment

When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama assured his supporters that “As president, I will help lead the way” on “international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons.” As someone who has researched the humanitarian impact of landmines and other weapons for a decade now, Obama’s promised policy position on conventional arms was one of the key reasons I voted for him.

Instead, on landmines, the Obama administration has hemmed and hahhed. It has left in place the Bush era policy, which was a regression from Clinton’s stance on landmines, while engaging in a “policy review” that has now been going on for four years. As a result, the continued US failure to join the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty put it at odds with numerous senators, humanitarian agencies and all of its NATO allies.

Ironically, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize supposedly for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” and commitment to “disarmament and arms control negotiations.”

Last year the State Department said that it would announce the results of its review “soon”. Later this was clarified, and an official told landmine ban campaigners that the US would reveal its position before the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty. That Meeting begins 2 December — less than four weeks from now — and we still haven’t heard a peep.

One encouraging sign was Secretary of State John Kerry’s signature of the Arms Trade Treaty in September this year. The US had not always been a particularly helpful negotiating partner in the diplomatic process leading up the new treaty, which will prevent the sale and transfer of conventional weapons to states and organizations that abuse human rights, commit war crimes or engage in terrorism, organized crime or piracy. But the Obama administration’s eventually positive role in getting the Treaty through the UN General Assembly represented a positive shift in toward a more progressive approach to arms control.

To unstick the landmine policy review, the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) – “comprised of thousands of individuals and NGOs which represent the myriad American citizens, landmine survivors, international allies, and campaigners from every corner of the globe” — has launched a new effort to push for US accession to the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty.

In a letter to Obama yesterday, the USCBL called on the President not to “delay further an announcement of the new U.S. landmine policy—a policy which should be aimed at a comprehensive ban on the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and ultimately at accession to the Mine Ban Treaty”

“It is unacceptable to continue to defer the outcome of this review,” said Zach Hudson, coordinator of the USCBL. “Landmines still have a devastating humanitarian impact in 2013. During the timeframe of this U.S. review alone, more than 16,000 new men, women, and children have been killed or maimed by a landmine, and ten more casualties will continue to occur every day. Many of these deaths and injuries will be a result of U.S. landmines from conflicts past. How can the administration continue to treat this as if it is not a priority?”

Join the conversation by tweeting @BarackObama, calling on him to join the Mine Ban Treaty, using the hashtag #banminesusa

My Statement on Disarmament on Behalf of Global Civil Society Organizations at the UN

•30 October 2013 • Leave a Comment
Dr. Matthew Bolton, assistant professor of political science in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences at Pace University New York, presenting a statement on disarmament at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Tuesday. Photos by Shant Alexander for Control Arms.

Dr. Matthew Bolton, assistant professor of political science in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences at Pace University New York, presenting a statement on disarmament at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Tuesday. Photo by Shant Alexander for Control Arms.

Representatives of NGOs working on disarmament generously asked me to help draft and then deliver a statement to the United Nations General Assembly First Committee Tuesday afternoon. It was a nervewracking experience but I have to say incredibly exciting to be able to talk to the international community about an issue in which I feel passionately invested. As an academic, I have to admit I was a little star-struck!

“We call for an approach to disarmament that is driven by the needs and rights of people most affected by armed violence, not by the discretion of states and organizations most responsible for it,” said the NGO statement, endorsed by 11 organizations. We congratulated states on “some noteworthy progress” in recent international discussions on the elimination of nuclear weapons, the recent Security Council resolution on small arms and light weapons as well as the Arms Trade Treaty, signed by over 100 states since June.

Despite these developments in global policy making on controlling weapons, however, we asserted that “now is not the time for resting on laurels.” The NGO statement identified numerous concerns, including the abuse of the consensus rule in disarmament forums, exclusion of meaningful civil society participation, lack of equal opportunities for women in decisionmaking and the marginalization of the voices of victims and survivors of armed violence.

“Creativity and new human-centered approaches must be a requirement for all states advocating nuclear disarmament, conventional arms control and reduced military expenditure,” the statement said. “We can and must replace stalemate and watered-down outcomes with alternatives that advance human security and social and economic justice.”

To watch a video of the oral version of the statement, visit Control Arm’s LiveStream page — I get the floor at the 21 minute 55 second mark.

France and Egypt Call for Action on Killer Robots at UN General Assembly First Committee

•14 October 2013 • Leave a Comment

Ambassador M. Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France called for action from the international community to deal with the threat of fully autonomous robotic weapons in the UN General Assembly First Committee last week. “We must look to the future,” he warned his fellow delegates:

An important debate has emerged in recent months on lethal autonomous robotics. This  is a key debate. It involves the place of the human in the decision to use lethal force. There are legal, ethical, and technical issues with respect to this technology that need to be addressed. The terms of the debate need to be clarified in the appropriate disarmament forum which can combine military, legal, and technical expertise with all states concerned.

France has taken a leading role in promoting an international conversation about this emerging class of “killer robots” which would be able to use lethal violence without the direct human control.

Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil of Egypt was even more frank in his statement to the First Committee, calling for international regulation:

Egypt reiterates that technology should not overtake humanity. The potential or actual development of Lethal Autonomous Robots raises many questions on their compliance with international humanitarian law, as well as issues of warfare ethics. Such issues need to be fully addressed. Regulations should be put into place before such systems (LARS) are to be developed and/or deployed.

The statements from France and Egypt follow the presentation of a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns in April, which stated that killer robots “raise far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace.”

To learn more about the threat of fully autonomous armed robots, read this extensive report from Human Rights Watch, visit the websites of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) and view my lecture online here.

Nobel Prize for Chemical Weapons Organization Inspires Humanitarian Disarmament Community

•14 October 2013 • Leave a Comment

Last Friday, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.” Unsurprisingly, the Nobel Committee’s announcement, which acknowledged “Disarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel’s will”, has caused quite a stir among those in the civil society community working for humanitarian constraints on the use, trade and production of weapons.

“All NGOs working to tackle humanitarian disarmament concerns will benefit from the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to return to its disarmament roots with the 2013 Peace Prize,” wrote the Ministry for
Disarmament blog
. “Civil society will continue to play a valuable role in the international movement to eradicate these weapons and NGOs will continue to work together with victims of chemical weapons, governments, the OPCW, the UN, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to achieve the shared goal of a world free of chemical weapons.”

Hats off to the OPCW and everyone working to make the world a better place by placing limits on the technologies of violence!

Breaking News: US Signs the Arms Trade Treaty!

•25 September 2013 • Leave a Comment

US Secretary of State John Kerry just signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty a few minutes ago (for more details, click here) This is a major victory for the Control Arms campaign, a coalition of humanitarian agencies, faith groups and thinktanks advocating for a regulations that would prevent the sale of conventional arms to human right abusers, drug traffickers and organized crime bosses. For an analysis of why the Arms Trade Treaty is good for US security, not just human rights, read this article I wrote for The Hill earlier this year.

“Today’s signing of the Arms Trade Treaty by the United States is a significant victory for human rights and development,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, a member of the Control Arms coalition.  “The US is the world’s foremost arms exporter, and US signature is a powerful step demonstrating the United States’ commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict.”

Oxfam America released a report today — “Saving Lives with Common Sense” — which calls on the US Senate to now ratify the treaty: “because it is in the US interest: it prevents the harm resulting from illicit and irresponsible arms transfers without impeding legitimate arms trade or interfering with domestic US firearms rights.”

Getting the US to sign its first multilateral arms treaty since 1996 also represents a victory for broader civil society efforts to make the world a  safer, more humane place through international law and cooperation. Only a year ago, the prospects of a strong Arms Trade Treaty looked bleak and the US was wavering on its commitment to negotiate an effective agreement. Credit for this milestone of international law goes to the activists, faith leaders, philanthropists and idealists who changed the conversation about conventional weapons, making us think about the humanitarian impact of an unchecked market in weapons.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers