Killer Robots Remain on UN Agenda

•14 November 2014 • Leave a Comment

At a meeting of the  Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the UN in Geneva, states agreed to keep autonomous weapons systems — “killer robots” — on the agenda for the coming year.

States mandated a five day informal Meeting of Experts for 13-17 April 2015. This isn’t exactly what activists associated with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots wanted; they had asked for a much longer, more formal meeting. The CCW’s rules of procedure require all decisions to be made by consensus, which means that the discussion is held back by states who benefit from dawdling while busily investing in research and development. As Human Rights Watch put it, “greater urgency is needed to address the threat these weapons pose.”

But this decision gives campaigners another possibility to push the international community to adopt a prohibition on these weapons that fail to maintain “meaningful human control” over individual attacks.

“The broad consensus expressed for continuing the talks shows it is clear that ‘doing nothing’ in the face of ever-greater autonomy in warfare is not an option,” said the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

For the statement of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (a group of concerned scholars) – at the CCW, click here. For the CCW’s final report, click here.

Just Cyberpeace in an Age of Autonomy

•10 November 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m not exactly the most technologically savvy person, but my involvement in the world of disarmament and arms control is making me increasingly aware of the need for peace and social justice activists to take cyberspace seriously. On Saturday, I watched CITIZENFOUR and was shocked at my own ignorance of the implications of the Edward Snowden revelations.

Of particular concern for those who have campaigned against victim-initiated weapons (like landmines and killer robots), is Snowden’s claim that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a program called MonsterMind that would detect a foreign cyber-attack and retaliate autonomously — a kind of Cyber-Mine.

During the UN General Assembly First Committee last month, many states raised concerns that while international human rights and humanitarian law applies in cyberspace, there needs to be greatly clarity about how. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned states that “the interconnectedness of military and civilian networks poses a significant practical challenge in terms of protecting civilians from the dangers of cyber warfare.”

Similarly, in a statement I had some peripheral involvement in drafting, several civil society organizations called on states to “work towards adopting an effective international legal framework that will prevent and protect the networked infrastructure upon which societies rely for their wellbeing.”

But the challenges of building a just cyberpeace in a time of growing militarization and mass surveillance are considerable (see this great introduction by a professor at Notre Dame). At the moment, outside the tech sector, activism on cyberspace is seen as the preserve of wonky nerds. But as more and more people have more and more of their lives integrated into digital networks, soon most discussions of limiting armed violence will have some cyber dimension.

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams Gives Address on Gender and Disarmament at Pace University

•1 November 2014 • Leave a Comment

Originally posted on Model United Nations Program, Pace University New York City:

Disarmament and Arms Control Campaigners Challenged to Take Gender Seriously

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams delivering keynote address at the 2014 Disarmament Forum at Pace University New York City. Photo: Control Arms.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams delivering keynote address at the 2014 Disarmament Forum at Pace University New York City. Photo: Control Arms.

Activists working on disarmament and arms control need to challenge the belief that violence is inevitable – especially violence by men –and resist the subtle attempts by powerful organizations and people to infer that those who work for peace are somehow weak and “woman-like”, said Jody Williams of the Nobel Women’s Initiative October 17-19, 2014, at Pace University in New York City.

Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines for her successful coordination of the global coalition that served as the “engine of change” on landmines and, in the space of five years, resulted in the Ottawa Treaty, banning Antipersonnel Landmines. Since January 2006, Williams has chaired…

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Global Civil Society and the Arms Trade Treaty

•15 October 2014 • Leave a Comment

Global Policy, a peer-reviewed academic journal read widely in scholarly and policymaking circles, has just released online a Special Section of four articles on the Arms Trade Treaty and Global Civil Society. The articles will be published in an upcoming issue, but are available online.

The Special Section was edited by me and written by academics and practitioners who have had varying levels of involvement in the campaign for a “bulletproof” treaty. The essays provide an overview of the treaty, the normative implications of its negotiation and text, the involvement of civil society and a commentary on its potential future impact. I have included here the abstract of the introductory essay “The Arms Trade Treaty from a Global Civil Society Perspective”:

The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) offers the first comprehensive, global and legally binding standards on the trade and transfer of conventional arms. The idea for the treaty was conceived not in the boardrooms of weapons manufacturers, nor in the assembly halls of statecraft, but rather by civil society activists and Nobel Laureates – practitioners, academics, survivors and researchers and advocates. And its robust provisions on human rights, humanitarian law and gender were championed by states often marginalized by traditional arms control. The resultant treaty is a sort of ‘platypus’ of international law – simultaneously an arms control regime, an instrument of human rights and humanitarian law and a trade agreement. Given its widespread acceptance and likely rapid entry into force, it could have a wide-ranging impact on global policy making in many issue areas. But as with any new framework of global policy, the ATT represents a compromise, recognizing the legitimacy of states’ rights to trade in weapons. This special section on the ATT, written from the perspective of scholars and practitioners associated with the civil society campaign that championed the treaty, reviews the ATT’s normative implications, role of NGOs and implementation challenges.

“Growing autonomy in weapons poses a grave threat to humanitarian and human rights law”

•6 October 2014 • Leave a Comment

I was quoted today in article on growing autonomy in naval weapons, saying:

“Growing autonomy in weapons poses a grave threat to humanitarian and human rights law, as well as international peace and security… In modern combat it is often heartbreakingly difficult to tell the difference between a fighter and a non-combatant.  Such a task relies on a soldier’s wisdom, discretion and judgment; it cannot and should not be outsourced to a machine. Death by algorithm represents a violation of a person’s inherent right to life, dignity and due process. … When the vast majority of countries outlawed anti-personnel landmines — a goal now endorsed by President Obama — they established that weapons which maim or kill absent of direct human control are morally reprehensible.”

Dr. Noel Sharkey — a professor of artificial intelligence, chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots — was also quoted, saying: “Don’t go to the next step. Don’t make them fully autonomous. That will proliferate just as quickly and then you are really going to be sunk.”

To read the full story, click here.

John Oliver Skewers US Dissembling on Drones

•1 October 2014 • Leave a Comment

A Brief History of US Policy on Landmines

•28 September 2014 • Leave a Comment

Over the last few months the US has narrowed the gulf between its own policy on antipersonnel landmines and the strong prohibition favored by most of the world’s countries. At the end of June, the U.S. announced that it will ban the production and acquisition of antipersonnel landmines, draw down its stockpiles and take steps to eventually joining the global ban treaty. Then, in late September, the Obama Administration promised not to use such weapons anywhere but the Korean Peninsula.

To read my history of US landmines policy on MAGAmerica’s blog, click here.


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