UN First Committee adopts draft resolution on lethal autonomous weapons

The UN First Committee has passed a draft resolution regarding lethal autonomous weapons systems, expressing concerns about their impact on global security and stability. The resolution calls for the Secretary-General to gather input from Member States, observer States, international organizations, and civil society, emphasizing humanitarian, legal, security, technological, and ethical perspectives. Despite some member states raising issues about definitions and frameworks, the resolution aims to address challenges while acknowledging the ongoing work of the Group of Governmental Experts. The resolution was adopted by a large majority with a few opposing and abstaining votes, advocating for a balanced and inclusive approach to discussions on lethal autonomous weapons.

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On 1 November 2023, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) of the UN General Assembly approved a draft resolution on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), expressing concern about the possible negative consequences and impact of autonomous weapons systems on global security and regional and international stability and stressing the urgent need for the international community to address the challenges and concerns raised by such systems.

The resolution, once endorsed by the General Assembly, would require the UN Secretary-General to seek the views of Member States and observer States on LAWS and on ways to address the challenges and concerns they raise from humanitarian, legal, security, technological, and ethical perspectives, and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its seventy-ninth session.  The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to invite the views of international and regional organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, civil society, the scientific community and industry and to include those in the annex to the report.

The ongoing work of the Group of Governmental Experts on Emerging Technologies in the Areaof Lethal Autonomous Weapons System (GGE on LAWS) – created under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – is acknowledged in the resolution.

Within the First Committee, the draft resolution was adopted by a vote of 164 in favour to 5 against (Belarus, India, Mali, Niger, Russian Federation), with 8 abstentions (China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Türkiye, United Arab Emirates). In addition, 11 votes were recorded on the resolution’s provisions.

Some of the points raised by member states during the debates include:

  • Egypt noted that algorithms must not be in full control of decisions that involve harming or killing humans. Human responsibility and accountability for the use of lethal force must be preserved.
  • The Russian Federation expressed concern that the resolution seeks to undermine the work of the GGE on LAWS, which is the sole ideal forum to discuss LAWS. The country also argued that the resolution does not acknowledge that autonomous weapons systems can play an important role in defence and in fighting terrorism, and that international law fully applies to these systems.
  • Iran noted that the definition and scope of the term ‘lethal autonomous weapons’ are not clearly defined, and that GGE on LAWS should focus on states parties.
  • Türkiye also raised the issue of a lack of agreement on the definition of autonomous weapons systems and noted that the absence of shared terminology increases ‘question marks’ on the way forward. The country also added that international law and international humanitarian law should be sufficient to alleviate concerns regarding the use of such weapons systems.
  • The USA stated that it does not support the creation of a parallel process on LAWS or any other efforts that will seek to undermine the centrality of the GGE on LAWS on making progress on this issue. Poland also noted that the GGE is the forum to make progress on identifying challenges and opportunities related to LAWS, and that other international forums are not equally fit, as they often lack technical and diplomatic capacity and do not address the significant balance between humanitarian aspects and military necessity.
  • Israel called on member states not to undermine the work done in the Convention through the creation of a parallel forum. It also outlined the importance of the full application of international humanitarian law to LAWS.
  • Australia called for the report to be prepared by the UN Secretary-General to be balanced and inclusive of the views of all UN member states. South Africa expressed concern about the provision of the resolution, noting that the integrity of the process under way in the GGE on LAWS should be respected, and states parties have already made their views known on the issue. Brazil argued that  the GGE might benefit from the fresher views of a wider audience.