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We're close to banning nuclear weapons - killer robots must be next

Nuclear treaty signed at G20 ban these weapons of mass destruction paving way for killer robots

Toby Walsh | The Conversation 

G20 communique exposes climate policy divide with US
US President Donald Trump along with other world leaders at a panel discussion on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: Reuters

While much of the world’s attention was focused last week on the meeting in Hamburg, and Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, a historic decision took place at the (UN) in New York.

On Friday, 122 countries voted in favour of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”.

were the only of mass destruction without a treaty banning them, despite the fact that they are potentially the most potent of all Biological weapons were banned in 1975 and chemical weapons in 1992.

This new treaty sets the norm that are no longer morally acceptable. This is the first step along the road to their eventual elimination from our planet, although the issue of North Korea’s ambitions remains unresolved.

Earlier this year, thousands of scientists including 30 Nobel Prize winners signed an open letter calling for to be banned. I was one of the signees, and am pleased to see an outcome linked to this call so swiftly and resolutely answered.

More broadly, the weapon treaty offers hope for formal negotiations about lethal autonomous (otherwise known as killer robots) due to start in the UN in November. Nineteen countries have already called for a pre-emptive ban on such weapons, fearing they will be the next weapon of mass destruction that man will invent.

An arms race is underway to develop autonomous weapons, in every theatre of war. In the air, for instance, BAE Systems is prototyping their Taranis drone. On the sea, the US Navy has launched their first autonomnous ship, the Sea Hunter. And under the sea, Boeing has a working version of a 15 metre long Echo Voyager autonomous submarine.

New treaty, new hope

The treaty is an important step towards delegitimising weapons, and puts strong moral pressure on the states like the US, the UK and Russia to reduce and eventually to eliminate such from their arsenals. The treaty also obliges states to support victims of the use and testing of weapons, and to address environmental damage caused by

It has to be noted that the talks at the UN and subsequent vote on the treaty were boycotted by all the states, as well as by a number of other countries. Australia has played a leading role in the non-proliferation treaty and other disarmament talks. Disappointingly Australia was one of these countries boycotting last week’s talks. In contrast, New Zealand played a leading role with their ambassador being one of the Vice-Presidents of the talks.

Whilst 122 countries voted for the treaty, one country (the Netherlands) voted against, and one (Singapore) abstained from the vote.

The treaty will open for signature by states at the in New York on September 20, 2017. It will then come into force once 50 states have signed.

Even though major states have boycotted previous disarmament treaties, this has not prevented the treaties having effect. The US, for instance, has never signed the 1999 accord on anti-personnel landmines, wishing to support South Korea’s use of such mines in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with North Korea. Nevertheless, the US follows the accord outside of the DMZ.

Given that 122 countries voted for the prohibition treaty, it is likely that 50 states will sign the treaty in short order, and that it will then come into force. And, as seen with the landmine accord, this will increase pressure on states like the US and Russia to reduce and perhaps even eliminate their stockpiles.

When the chemical convention came into effect in 1993, eight countries declared stockpiles, which are now partially or completely eliminated.

Public pressure

The vote also raises hope on the issue of Two years ago, I and thousands of my colleagues signed an open letter calling for a ban on killer robots. This pushed the issue up the agenda at the UN and helped get 123 nations to vote last December at the UN in Geneva for the commencement of formal talks.

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The UN moves a little slowly at times. disarmament is the longest sought objective of the UN, dating back to the very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly in January 1946 shortly after bombs had been used by the US for the first time. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful moment in a time when hope is in short supply.

The ConversationThe UN does move in the right direction and countries can come together and act in our common interest. Bravo.


Toby Walsh, Professor of AI at UNSW, Research Group Leader, Data61

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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First Published: Thu, July 13 2017. 08:24 IST
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