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Global majority united on multilateral regulation of AI weapons

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Global majority ******* on multilateral regulation of AI weapons

Foreign ministers from states around the world are calling for multilateral action to safeguard humanity against the growing threat of autonomous ******* systems (AWS), which are able to select, detect and engage targets with little or no human intervention.

In November 2023, countries participating in the ******* Nations (UN) First Committee – which deals with issues around disarmament and international security – overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution underlining the “urgent need” for international action to control the use of AWS globally.

Following this, more than 900 representatives from 140 countries gathered at the Vienna Conference on Autonomous Weapons Systems on 29 April 2024 to further discuss the moral, ethical, legal and humanitarian concerns presented by artificial intelligence (AI)-powered weapons.

Speaking during the first day of a three-day event, foreign ministers from around the world discussed the importance of creating new legally binding instruments to control and limit the use of AWS internationally.

Noting that the vast majority of states do not want fully autonomous weapons to exist and are already calling for legal controls on the further development and deployment of autonomous ******* technologies, ministers stressed the need for multilateral approaches to govern AWS.

However, they also warned that a lack of political will from key players is a major ongoing barrier to progress, as their power and influence makes it hard to take concrete multilateral action without them.

Discussion details

Describing AWS as “the Oppenheimer moment of our generation”, Austria’s federal minister for ********* and International Affairs, Alexander Schallenberg, said their development raises “deeply ethical” and “fundamentally political questions”. He reiterated his government’s position that there should be a complete ban on fully autonomous versions of weapons that can operate free of human input.

“We all know that any loss of human life in conflict is one too many, but at least let us make sure that the most profound and far-reaching decision – who lives and who ***** – ******** in the hands of humans, and not of machines,” he said.

Highlighting the

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signed by 33 ****** ********* and Caribbean countries in February 2023, Costa Rican foreign minister Arnoldo André Tinoco added the effective regulation of AWS was of “paramount importance” to his country and region.

Noting the success of previous international efforts to address the threats posed by nukes, cluster munitions and biological weapons, Tinoco said “a royal majority” of sates now want dialogue and cooperation to achieve a legally binding instrument on AWS, and that the “growing majority is beginning to consolidate into a critical mass of states committed to this common goal”.

Commenting on the need for states to balance AWS disarmament with their security needs, Norway’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, Eivind Vad Petersson, said that not complying with international humanitarian law (IHL) when using autonomous weapons will ultimately undermine the effectiveness of military operations, “as I’m sorry to say we have seen play out in Gaza”.

He added that while IHL is not an “empty room” and can already be applied to the use of AWS in conflict, a new binding international instrument is needed to clarify exactly how it applies to the use of AI-powered weapons, as well as a further binding instrument completely banning the use of weapons that operate with full autonomy outside of any human control.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which acts as a global conflict watchdog, agreed that while all states already have obligations under the Geneva Convention to ensure their use of AWS is legal, IHL is not static and has always adapted to new technologies and possibilities in warfare.

“As far as the ICRC is concerned, we need a framework that contains explicit bans,” she said. “Bans on autonomous weapons systems that targets humans, and bans on autonomous weapons systems that are unpredictable… [and] that automatically and independently of human control choose targets, defining the moment and object of an *******.”

Highlighting a number of treaties that have been passed in recent decades on the use of mines and chemical weapons, for example, Spoljaric Egger added that these treaties are saving lives despite having never been ratified by some states, meaning it is important not to be “discouraged” by some countries refusal to back new international instruments.

Multilateralism under threat?

A major concern discussed by foreign ministers and others on the first day of the Vienna Conference is the reticence of some key players to cooperate on the issue of AWS.

Commenting on the work of the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) – which seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of weapons deemed excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects, and is the main international forum through which AWS regulation is being discussed – Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, said it is now clear the body is “completely paralysed” due to its consensus-based model that requires every delegation to be in full agreement.

While multiple speakers highlighted the role of “Russia and others” in undermining the CCW’s consensus process through the de-facto veto powers of every country present, only a small ********* of states have ever opposed binding protocols on AWS, which also includes the ***, US and *******.

Anthony Aguirre, executive director of The Future of Life Institute, added: “I think we have to admit that the process at the CCW is a ***** end.” He noted the “pure consensus” model means certain countries “are going to block any meaningful measure on autonomous weapons”.

Both Aguirre and Tallinn said that while movement towards binding measures in the CCW is highly unlikely, there is nothing stopping states from developing their own countermeasures against AWS right now.

“A treaty limiting autonomous weapons would not in any way preclude countries from developing defences against them,” said Aguirre, who added that any voluntary measures introduced – while often positive and well-intentioned – are also not likely to do anything to curtail the proliferation of AWS. “In short, I think we need a new treaty, and that treaty needs to be negotiated in the UN General Assembly.”

Noting that some countries are reluctant to adopt working definitions of AWS – including the ***, where the government has argued a definition would be “a gift to our adversaries” – Aguirre said this was an excuse for inaction, noting that other treaties like the one on biological weapons do not contain precise definitions.

He added that it is clear that most of the world is in favour of legally binding rules that prevent the use of ******* systems that can select and target humans, so any claim to not know what regulation would be limiting is just another excuse.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, agreed that “voluntary measures would not be sufficient” to ensure human control over AWS and the decision to use force, noting that any legal instruments must prohibit full autonomy in weapons and regulate every other aspect of AWS, from target selection protocols to the length of a given deployment.

Nakamitsu added that the main barriers to progress on AWS are the lack of political will from major military powers to engage with others on the issue; a geopolitical environment where those major powers have no mutual trust in the multilateral discussions taking place; and a lack of consensus over definitions and terminology related to various aspects of AWS.

Timothy Musa Kabba, the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation in Sierra Leone, said that for multilateralism to work in the modern world, there is a pressing need to reform the UN Security Council, which is dominated by the interests of its five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the ***, and the US).

“I think with the emergence of new realities, from climate change to autonomous weapons systems, we need to look at multilateralism once again,” he said, noting any new or reformed institutions will need to be inclusive, democratic and adaptable.

He added that given the legacy of ********* colonialism and technology in ******* – from the advent of steam boats that enabled the transatlantic ****** trade or breakthroughs in atomic energy that have made “******** shores a dumping ground for nuclear waste” – there is real worry about the negative impacts of AI and AWS on the continent.

“We very much concerned…because AI should be used for scientific development, socio-political development, but it could be used to ********,” he said.

Musa Kabba concluded that almost every nation in the world being present at the discussions in Vienna was a significant milestone, adding: “The imperative need for us to come up with legally binding regulatory instruments cannot be over-emphasised.”

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#Global #majority #******* #multilateral #regulation #weapons

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