LAWS without law. When the EU forgets treaties and citizens’ expectations. AI lethal autonomous weapons are a danger for humanity

London 29 May 2018 – The EU approved a new 500mln euros fund for the development of lethal autonomous weapons. The programme will be funded with EU budget: 60% from redirected funds and 40% from unallocated quota, with priority of destination to SME developing robotics. The decision is the outcome of the agreement of Council, Commission and Parliament.

NGO’s, experts, academics, 22 States’ representatives, are raising concerns about dangers of killer robots LAWS themselves, of the risk of arm race to AI automated weapons and their deployment in conflicts. Some are addressing a violation of Article 41(2) of the Lisbon Treaty (TEU ) for misuse of budget and because of disregard for the main funding principles the EU: cooperation and peace building. EU was born from the ashes of WWII with the aim of building and maintaining regional peace, security and discourage warfare, as well as UN, acting with the same goals and laws at global stage.
 lisbon treaty

The decision in Brussels has been made before the UN ongoing sessions of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems reached any conclusion. Notwithstanding GGE is currently stuck in the definitions of LAWS themselves.

Talks participated by corporates and their lawyers/experts boosting their interests in the production of lethal autonomous weapons on the one side, opposed by NGOs, human rights lawyers with practically no civil society elected representatives, are struggling to proceed.

Though elements referred to the GGE are delaying a resolution stating LAWS are not yet fully developed as totally autonomous weapons, 22 States along with humanitarian organisation, activists and public opinion are asking for a new treaty banning these deadly uncontrolled machines bringing forward, among multiple examples, weapons such as Samsung SGR-A1 a totally autonomous gun firing with no human intervention produced by Samsung Techwin (now Hanwha Aerospace) and Korea University and currently in use at the south Korean border with North Korea.


A part from denying evidences by hiding them behind a legal/linguistic debate around the definition of the word ‘autonomous’, the United Nations’ GGE, chaired by Amandeep Singh Gill Ambassador of India, proceeds relentlessly towards a conclusion on the ban or treaty regulated production and deployment of LAWS while hampered by multinationals interests, reckless states supporting ‘killer robots’ and an embarrassing lack of funds for meetings

Nevertheless the next meeting is scheduled 27 to 31 August 2018 in Geneva when, hopefully, the question to be addressed would be why the EU took the stance of a budget funded available for research, test, development of LAWS in the context of a oversized defence budget.

Answering to a Parliamentary question Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated last 17 January 2018:

The EU is actively involved in the discussions at the United Nations on Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) and supported the setting up in 2016 of a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on LAWS within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Discussions on LAWS should take place in the CCW, combining diplomatic, legal and military expertise, and with the involvement of industry and civil society. The EU hence supported the continuation of the GGE beyond 2017. All weapon systems, including LAWS, and their possible development, use and deployment in armed conflict, must comply with rules, norms and principles of international law, in particular international humanitarian law and human rights law.

“At the 2016 GGE informal meeting, there was a general understanding that a State will bear the legal and political responsibility and establish accountability for action by any weapon system used by the State’s forces in accordance with applicable international law, in particular humanitarian law. This was confirmed by the formal GGE meeting in November 2017.

“While fully autonomous LAWS do not exist yet, the GGE should continue to consider issues related to their potential development and regulation, including the question of human control of LAWS. In doing so, it is important not to hamper innovation in high-tech industries, such as robotics and other related areas in the civilian sector.

“Finally, legal weapons reviews are a requirement according to Art. 36 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention. Such reviews are a key mechanism to establish whether or not possible future LAWS can be developed, produced or used lawfully”.

As the contested fund has been approved last May 22nd, the question is why then the EU agreed a budget funded 500mln euros before the UN made any decision on its lawful feasibility in accordance to International Law, Humanitarian Law, and Human Rights International Law.
Over the last years, multiple reports from diverse political group and from the Commission testify how the European Union is seeking to increase its defence budget at the expense of other areas of direct interest for the lives citizens (education, housing, public health, social services). It is also not justified those reports are comparing vis a vis EU military expense to the US one, as in a bilateral approach not representing the 28 members foreign relations approach and not mitigating the diverse foreign policies of the 28 members through a common peace and cooperation external policy.

London 29 May 2018 

Emy Muzzi