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Germany Backs UN Chief in Countering Autonomous Weapons

By Ramesh Jaura

Photo: Heiko Mass, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, addressing the Security Council meeting on collective action to improve United Nations Peacekeeping Operations on 28 March 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

BERLIN (IDN) – Keeping humans in control of autonomous weapons and artificial intelligence is an important element of UN Secretary-General António Guterres' action plan to implement the Agenda for Disarmament, Securing Our Common Future, presented in May 2018. [2019-03-17]

"Essentially, the question is whether we are in control of technology or whether, ultimately, it controls us," said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in his remarks on March 15 at the conference '2019 Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control' at the German Foreign Office in Berlin. The development of fully autonomous killer robots, cyber weapons and new biological agents has created scenarios for which there are to date almost no internationally recognised rules, he added.

The conference was part of an initiative by Germany – a non-permanent member of the 15-nation UN Security Council for 2019-2020 – for dialogue on disarmament, in which Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), also participated.

In her remarks, she pointed out that the Berlin conference was taking place on the eve of the forthcoming meeting of the 'Group of Governmental Experts on Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS)' on March 25-29, 2019 in Geneva.

The group was established following a decision taken in 2016 by the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on the Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injuriousor to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – CCW). It is mandated to examine issues related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) in the context of the objectives and purposes of the CCW.

Underscoring the urgency of  adequate action, Maas said: "If new technologies are capable today of revolutionising the development of weapons and warfare, then we face a most fundamental question, namely will we manage to act with foresight this time around? Or will our rules kick in too late once again – perhaps this time finally too late?"

Mass further said that Germany will put the issue of nuclear non‑proliferation on the Security Council agenda when the country assumes the Presidency at the beginning of April. "We want to take steps to counter the erosion of entire systems, also with a view to next year’s NPT Review Conference."

The Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will hold its third session at United Nations Headquarters in New York, during German Presidency of the Security Council from April 29 to May 10, 2019. This will be the third and final session prior to the 2020 Review Conference.

The Political Declaration emerging from the Berlin conference said the Foreign Ministers of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have pledged "to work together to strengthen existing biological, chemical, conventional and nuclear arms control arrangements in a multilateral endeavour to maintain and reinforce the rules-based international order for a new technological age".

They said they were deeply worried about the deterioration of the global security environment and the manifold challenges to stability including through the erosion of existing conventional and nuclear disarmament and arms control regimes.

"We are especially concerned about the future of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been crucial for security in Europe for over thirty years. We reiterate our urgent call to Russia to return to complete and verifiable compliance with this treaty before August to enable its preservation," the political declaration added.

The Declaration states further:

- The time to act is now. Given the speed of technological developments, it is of utmost importance that we now analyse closely potential negative and positive effects of new technologies, and identify the need for further regulation and new arms control arrangements in order to maintain international peace and stability.

- There is a need to build a shared understanding of how technologically enhanced military capabilities may change the character of warfare and how this will influence global security.

- We need to intensify cooperation to prevent the uncontrolled proliferation of weapon systems, both existing and new.

- The development and use of all weapons needs to be in full compliance with existing international law.

- We need an intensified dialogue with and among the representatives of science, research and industry to encourage the development of ethical standards for the development of new technologies.

These points comply with the recommendations of the report – presented at the Berlin conference by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – which states that, in order to tackle the governance issues presented by emerging technologies, national governments need to monitor and assess developments in science and technology on a more systematic basis.

They should also strengthen international efforts to foster responsible science and biosecurity awareness. In addition, the report suggests that the private sector should reinforce self-regulation and compliance standards. [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 March 2019]

Photo: Heiko Mass, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, addressing the Security Council meeting on collective action to improve United Nations Peacekeeping Operations on 28 March 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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