Both the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) have recently responded to letters sent by UNA-UK, as part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, urging the UK government to pre-emptively ban lethal autonomous robotics and to act on the recommendations made in May 2013 by Cristof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. These responses build on remarks made by the government during an Adjournment Debate in Parliament on 17 June.
Andrew Robathan MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, stated that the MoD “has no intention to develop systems that operate without human intervention in the weapon command and control chain." Minister Robathan also reiterated the UK government’s commitment to "comply fully with its obligations under international law".
In the reply from the FCO, Alistair Burt MP, Minister with responsibility for defence policy, did not rule out the possibility that such systems would be developed by the UK in the future. Unwilling to commit to an international ban or moratorium, Alistair Burt MP went on to state that “existing International Humanitarian Law provides the right safeguards against the possibility that States might choose to develop lethal autonomous robotics in the future.”
On a positive note, Minister Burt did recognise the need for further international debate on this issue and suggested that the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons could provide a forum for such discussions.
UNA-UK, along with UK members of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, will continue to call for a clear definition from the UK as to the level of human oversight required for UK weapons systems and for this to be made public as part of a formalised policy on lethal autonomous robotics.
Image: 'Taranis' - an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle under development by BAE Systems