Last month at the United Nations Human Rights Council, we were slightly concerned when the UK was the only state opposed to a moratorium or a ban on fully autonomous weapons. After a parliamentary debate on June 17, 2013, we have a little more clarity. In response to a speech by Nia Griffith, MP, the Minister for Counter Proliferation, Alistair Burt MP, agreed that fully autonomous weapons will not “be able to meet the requirements of international humanitarian law” and stressed that the UK does not have fully autonomous weapons and does not plan to acquire any.
Our colleagues at Article 36 have done a detailed analysis of the debate. In light of the stronger language in this debate, there is some room to optimistic
It would seem straightforward to move from such a strong national position to a formalised national moratorium and a leading role within an international process to prohibit such weapons. The government did not provide any reason as to why a moratorium would be inappropriate, other than to speculate on the level of support amongst other countries for such a course of action.
Whilst significant issues still require more detailed elaboration, Article 36 believes this parliamentary debate has been very valuable in prompting reflection and Ministerial scrutiny of UK policy on fully autonomous weapons and narrowing down the areas on which further discussions should focus. It appears clear now that there will be scope for such discussions to take place with the UK and other states in the near future.
The UK parliamentary debate and Article 36’s analysis of it, coming so soon after the Human Rights Council debate and the widespread media coverage of the issue make it quite clear that it is time to have such a substantive and non-partisan debate in the Canadian House of Commons as the government works out its policy on this important issue.
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