Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
91. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Ireland will join the 29 countries calling for a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons, including the ban in participating, supporting the development of and-or manufacturing or trading such lethal autonomous weapons also known as LAWS before a robotic arms race ensues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36975/19]
Ireland has a clear, long-standing policy of promoting effective multilateral cooperation, the rule of law and good global governance. We consider it an imperative to seek multilateral solutions to global challenges and threats to international peace and security, including those arising from new technological developments and advancements.
Ireland regards the area of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) as one of the most pressing issues facing the disarmament agenda. Their development and deployment raises serious ethical, moral and legal questions, with the possibility of contravening International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, reshaping modern warfare, and exacerbating asymmetries of power between States. We believe that there is an urgent need for tangible international responses to address these challenges.
The principal multilateral space for addressing these challenges is the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on LAWS. This is a UN body that operates by consensus. While conscious of the difficulties in achieving consensus within the Group, Ireland believes that progress can continue to be made there and we remain committed to achieving a consensus outcome at this stage. We welcome the outcome of the most recent GGE meeting in August 2019, whereby States agreed to endorse a set of Guiding Principles and decided to continue work for an additional two years. The decision to extend these discussions reflects the fact that States believe further progress can be achieved within the context of the GGE. Working to achieve consensus within the UN system remains the most effective way to comprehensively address the emerging challenges posed by LAWS. The GGE is relevant and representative because it encompasses 125 countries, including those countries most likely to develop these new weapon systems.
In the short term, we see a political declaration on LAWS as the outcome most likely to secure agreement. We also see value in developing an internationally-agreed legal instrument designed to ensure human control over autonomous weapon systems. While a number of States have called for a pre-emptive ban, we do not see a consensus emerging in the GGE around calls for a pre-emptive ban at this stage. We have continuously reiterated that the GGE needs, as a matter of urgency, to make substantive progress in order to ensure that technological developments do not outpace the international community’s ability to regulate these weapons.
Ireland also recognises the valuable contribution of civil society in these on-going discussions. We have funded and partnered with civil society to facilitate informal discussions among States and civil society to allow a better understanding of the commonalities that exist between States on this complex issue. We look forward to continuing our engagement with civil society in the future on this important topic.