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UK Government responds to calls to safeguard against the serious risks posed by Autonomous Weapons Systems

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Photo: David Wreckham - the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

The UN General Assembly will soon vote on a landmark resolution on autonomous weapons systems (AWS) calling for the UN Secretary-General to seek the views of all states and stakeholders regarding recommendations for a way forward.

Earlier this month, UNA-UK joined human rights organisations in the UK calling on Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to urgently and effectively safeguard against the serious risks posed by Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS) by co-sponsoring and voting in support of the resolution. Progress is urgently needed; the resolution - tabled by Austria in partnership with a cross-regional group of co-sponsors* at the First Committee - follows a decade of international discussions without concrete outcomes at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has now responded to the open letter, writing that ‘the UK is considering the resolution seriously, and we have engaged with the co-sponsors on the text.’

Read their full response here

With the vote days away, the UK Campaign to Stop Killer robots has stressed:

It is incredible and grossly inadequate that the UK Government will not yet state its position on the resolution – and that it refuses to take the opportunity to clearly state its support for the constructive step forward embodied by the resolution in the context of the deadlocked political landscape on AWS at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Once again highlighting the deadlocked CCW as the location for international political progress on AWS is a position without credibility.

It is also notable that, as during the evidence the Government gave recently to the AI in Weapons Systems Inquiry, the Government cannot seem to bear mentioning the UN General Assembly as a forum for discussion on this issue – omitting the significant joint statement made by 70 states last year at UNGA on AWS, which the UK endorsed, and which this year’s resolution builds on.

While the FCDO welcomes the draft resolution’s acknowledgement of the progress made on the issue of AWS under the CCW, it maintains that existing international humanitarian law is sufficient to address the serious risks and challenges posed by AWS which it is not. The UK’s current position is out of step with the international community. Ahead of the AI Safety Summit next week, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, spoke at The Royal Society earlier today where he told the audience that he believes the UK has ‘a global responsibility to understand and address the risks surrounding AI.’ The UK still has an opportunity to co-sponsor the resolution ahead of the vote, which is due to take place between the 27 October-2 November. The PM should affirm his belief by making sure that his Government co-sponsors and votes in favour of the resolution on AWS.

*The current list of co-sponsors includes Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Cabo Verde, North Macedonia, San Marino

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UNA-UK continues to raise awareness of concerns over lethal autonomous weapons systems - an emerging type of weapon system which can identify and kill people without meaningful human control. UNA-UK conducts this work with our partners in the UK Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the UK chapter of the global campaign, and hosts the coordinator for this coalition.

Photo: David Wreckham - the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots' friendly robot mascot is pictured at the Houses of Parliament in London.