Government commits to international effort to ban and regulate killer robots

  • Hon Phil Twyford

Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control Phil Twyford announced today that New Zealand will push for new international law to ban and regulate autonomous weapons systems (AWS), which once activated can select and engage targets without further human intervention.

“While the evidence suggests fully autonomous weapons systems are not yet being deployed on the battlefield, the prospect of a future where the decision to take a human life is delegated to machines is abhorrent and inconsistent with New Zealand’s interests and values,” Phil Twyford said.

“As signalled in our disarmament strategy launched earlier this year, we have confirmed New Zealand’s support for new, legally-binding prohibitions, rules and limits on AWS, following an inclusive process with the Defence Force and other government agencies, as well as stakeholders from outside government.

“By establishing a well-informed position on autonomous weapons, New Zealand is strongly placed to work with other nations to make the case for a new legal instrument such as a convention or treaty, including through the existing multilateral talks underway at the UN in Geneva.

“This policy also makes clear, however, that New Zealand will remain open to other opportunities to make progress, including by building and working with a coalition of states, experts and others.

“New Zealand has a proud record of prioritising humanitarian concerns and putting human rights at the heart of our foreign policy. We have successfully advocated for legally binding rules on such issues in the past, and it is time for us to do so again as we tackle this emerging area of concern.

“There is increasing awareness that the application of artificial intelligence and emerging technologies in new weapons systems raises legal, ethical and security risks if left unchecked – something acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as concerned tech experts, ethicists and military personnel.

“Our policy shows it is possible to address these risks while remaining consistent with our defence and security interests, including maintaining interoperability with key defence partners, and ensuring our tech sector remains able to pursue the opportunities the peaceful development of AI presents.

“I’d like to thank all those who participated in this process, as well as the tireless work of the international Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in making the case for action. This is an issue with significant implications for global peace and security, and I’m optimistic New Zealand, alongside the international community, is well placed to push for action,” Phil Twyford said.

The Cabinet Paper Autonomous Weapons Systems: New Zealand Policy Position and Approach For International Engagement can be found at the following link – https://www.mfat.govt.nz/assets/Peace-Rights-and-Security/Disarmament/Autonomous-Weapons-Systems-Cabinet-paper.pdf

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