"We are the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots”: International Activists for Banning Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems

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On 21 March 2019, CFFP Germany co-hosted the public event "We are the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” in Berlin together with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which CFFP is a proud member. In an amazing show, different members of the Campaign – which by now is an international coalition of 100 non-governmental organisations in 53 countries – highlighted the challenges autonomous weapons pose. All members – scientists, scholars, tech workers, and human rights and disarmament activists from all over the world – were united by one goal: to establish an international treaty to preemptively ban weapon systems that can select and attack targets without meaningful human control – the so-called killer robots.

After our co-founder Kristina Lunz opened the event together with Mary Wareham, Coordinator of the Campaign and Advocacy Director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, distinguished speakers, including Professor Noel Sharkey, co-founder and chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), highlighted the ethical, moral and legal concerns autonomous weapons pose. Dr. Thompson Chengeta, legal expert and member of ICRAC, argued that “there is no way, autonomous weapons can comply with international humanitarian law”. Laura Nolan, activist and software engineer who resigned from Google over Project Maven, reminded us that “software is never perfect, it fails regularly. It is not neutral, it carries the bias of their programmers.” Other speakers drew attention to the fact that autonomous weapon systems are prone to misuse and accidents due to programming errors or the threat of cyber-attacks. Others referred to historical examples of successful weapon ban treaties, such as the ban on biological and chemical weapons, emphasising that an international ban of autonomous weapon systems is possible – if the global community acts quickly!  

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is in Berlin!  By Ralf Schlesener: [Berlin], [Germany], 2019. JPEG file.

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is in Berlin! By Ralf Schlesener: [Berlin], [Germany], 2019. JPEG file.

Ray Acheson, Director of Reaching Critical Will – the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), directly connected the issue of killer robots to women’s rights and gender equality, arguing that “weapons are always about power, about domination. They are a tool of patriarchy. Disarmament is necessary for an intersectional feminist peace”. Towards the end of the night, Jody Williams, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1997 for her leading efforts to ban landmines, took the stage. In her powerful remark, she talked about her experience as a lifelong activist, and strongly urged the German government to take bolder steps to ban autonomous weapons. She closed by reminding the audience that “bad things happen when people don’t take on the responsibility to speak up”.  

One of the ultimate aims of a feminist foreign policy is disarmament because neither military nor weapons provide actual security. On the contrary, our current international security architecture is based on the ability to dominate and destroy. Instead of fostering our security, weapons serve those in power to stay in power. For these reasons, CFFP is a proud member of the campaign. We strongly believe that an international treaty to ban the development, production, and use of lethal autonomous weapon systems is absolutely necessary. We, therefore, call upon the German Government to commit to an international ban and to work towards international negotiations for such. Now - before it is too late!

To find out more, check out the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ website! You can also read either this article by Joe Pinkstone for DailyMail or this contribution by Reuters published on the New York Times’ website – both of which talk about the 21 March event in Berlin. Together with 11 other German NGOs, CFFP Germany also wrote an Open Letter to our German Foreign Minister Heiko urging him to work towards an international ban of autonomous weapons. You can find it in German here.

Lea Börgerding is a volunteer staff in the Communications team at the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) Germany.

Nina Bernarding is co-leading at at the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) Germany alongside Kristina Lunz.