Soldier holding weapon

Russia rejects potential UN ‘killer robots’ ban, official statement says

Image credit: Dreamstime

According to a statement by the Russian government preceding the Convention of Conventional Weapons – in which a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was discussed – such restrictions could be inappropriate and damaging to innovation.

The annual Convention on Conventional Weapons was held at the UN in Geneva this year. Representatives of nearly 100 countries present agreed that discussions on limiting the development and deployment of LAWS should continue in following sessions.

Although more than 20 states explicitly supported hard legal restrictions banning these weapons, the convention was criticised as “unambitious” by the Stop Killer Robots campaign group.

“Political declarations, codes of conduct and other measures fall far short of what is needed to address the multiple and serious ethical, legal, operational, technical challenges raised by these weapons systems,” a statement by the group said. “Some of these steps presuppose that fully autonomous weapons will be developed and that sends the wrong message.”

A report by Defense One quoted an anonymous attendee at the convention, who opined that the slow progress made at the meeting suited Russia’s interests.

“The Russians are not interested in making progress on [restricting LAWS],” they said.

In a written statement prepared for the convention, the Russian government strongly rejected any proposal of a ban on LAWS, suggesting that such a ban could be ignored. The statement argued that the lack of existing weapons systems made it inappropriate to introduce a ban, despite some precedents of preventive bans on some weapons before they were used, such as blinding laser weapons. LAWS are a complex and wide group of weapons which are not yet understood, the statement said.

It also said that it would be difficult to distinguish between civilian and military developments of LAWS: “It is hardly acceptable for the work on LAWS to restrict the freedom to enjoy the benefits of autonomous technologies being the future of humankind.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Russia has “strenuously objected” to formation of international groups to restrict development of LAWS for months.

Russia has previously faced accusations of violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty: an agreement between the US and former Soviet Union to eliminate intermediate-range missiles and their launchers.

At least one Russian company, Kalashnikov, is working on an autonomous weapons system for determining and shooting targets, although these systems are also under development in the US, UK, China and many other countries.

In August, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, and 114 other leading figures in technology presented a letter to the UN calling for a ban on killer robots.

“Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter said. “These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

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