June 8, 2021, 03.00 PM
'Loitering munitions' with a high degree of autonomy are already seeing action in conflict 'Loitering munitions' with a high degree of autonomy are already seeing action in conflict

Bonnie Docherty has made it her mission to prevent such a future. A Harvard Law School lecturer, she is an architect of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an alliance of nongovernmental organizations demanding a global treaty to ban lethal autonomous weapons.

"The overarching obligation of the treaty should be to maintain meaningful human control over the use of force," Docherty told DW.

"It should be a treaty that governs all weapons operating with autonomy that choose targets and fire on them based on sensor's inputs rather than human inputs."

Also read: Indonesia Police Bust Reveals Use of Drones in Drug Smuggling Attempt

The campaign has been focused on talks in Geneva under the umbrella of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which seeks to control weapons deemed to cause unjustifiable suffering.

It has been slow going. The process has yielded a set of "guiding principles," including that autonomous weapons be subject to human rights law, and that humans have ultimate responsibility for their use. But these simply form a basis for more discussions.

Docherty fears that the consensus-bound Geneva process may be thwarted by powers that have no interest in a treaty.

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"Russia has been particularly vehement in its objections," Docherty said. But it's not alone. "Some of the other states developing autonomous weapon systems such as Israel, the US, the United Kingdom and others have certainly been unsupportive of a new treaty."

Time for a rethink?

Docherty is calling for a new approach if the next round of Geneva talks due later this year makes no progress.

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