The United States and Russia were among a small number of countries that blocked the U.N. from moving toward talks on whether to ban so-called killer robots.
During a week of meetings in Geneva, which ended in the early hours of Saturday, a group at the United Nations’ Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) discussed whether to take negotiations on fully autonomous weapons powered by artificial intelligence to a formal level that could lead to a treaty banning them.
However, a list of non-binding recommendations that participating countries agreed on, seen by POLITICO, dodges the question of whether to move on to formal negotiations.
Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, said that Russia, the U.S., South Korea, Israel and Australia were the main countries opposing the call for action.
“It’s a disappointment, of course, that a small minority of large military powers can hold back the will of the majority,” she said.
Her group represents 75 non-governmental organizations in 32 countries fighting for a ban on weapons that use AI technology to choose their targets. It says 26 countries endorse a full ban on the weapons.
Throughout the meeting, many of those countries reiterated their call for strong regulation, pushing for the U.N. to start formal negotiations next year.
Doing so would be the next step toward binding international rules but opponents of a ban stood firm. The document issued at the end of the meeting recommends that non-binding talks continue.
“Any one state can block any progress,” Wareham said. “And that’s what’s happened here.”
Armies and arms manufacturers around the world are testing killer robots, which could soon outperform existing military technology at only a fraction of the cost.
At the end of 2013, the United Nations put the topic on its agenda, but since then little has happened. It has not even been able to agree on a definition of fully autonomous lethal weapons.
At the same time, experts say, positions around the negotiation table are hardening.
“The rift between the different positions is getting bigger, talks this week have shown,” said Frank Sauer, an autonomous weapons expert at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich.
Countries are set to meet again in November in Geneva.