With Armed Robots, Drones, New Weapons on Horizon, States Must Fill Gaps in Existing Regimes to Address Fresh Threats, First Committee Hears

| October 22, 2016

Enormous technological developments in the field of autonomous weapons required the world to more sharply focus on addressing the range of threats they posed, while taking into account gaps in existing international regimes, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard, as it continued its debate on conventional weapons.

Several speakers expressed concern about new technological advances, including unmanned air vehicles, armed robots, drones and autonomous weapons.  Many said Member States must urgently address related challenges through appropriate frameworks.

While recognizing the strategic and operational requirements for such weapons, Botswana’s representative said there was a need for a serious and sober examination of how they were being employed.  That discourse should be guided and informed by international humanitarian law, among other instruments, he said.

Speakers also highlighted other areas that needed attention.  Emphasizing how technological developments could lead to new forms of warfare, Switzerland’s delegate said States must be in a position to ensure conformity with international law.  The weaponization of robotics would require particular attention and oversight by the international community, she said.

Bringing up examples of new weapons already being deployed, several speakers raised concerns about the legality of such activities.  Venezuela’s representative condemned the use of armed drones to carry out extrajudicial killings, which contravened international law.  Left unchecked, those weapons could be misused by both Governments and non-State actors.  Such a fate might also await other new technologies, such as robots, once they had been militarized, he said.

Others expressed confidence in ability of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to address current and future challenges.  On the question of lethal autonomous weapons, the speaker from Ireland said it would be timely to take work on that issue forward by setting up a group of governmental experts at the next review conference of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.

Agreeing, the speaker from France said she supported the continuation of dialogue on the issues relating to future systems and would like to see an agreement at the Convention’s review conference to establish a group of governmental experts for further discussions.  Her counterpart from China said he supported in-depth discussions on humanitarian problems caused by such weapons under appropriate frameworks.

Meanwhile, some speakers from countries that had been affected by anti-personnel landmines called for international cooperation and assistance, urging those who had planted the mines to shoulder their responsibilities.  Libya’s delegate said Libyans had suffered from such weapons since the Second World War.  Mechanisms should be established to help States in similar situations to clear them, with the colonial countries bearing the cost, he concluded.

Echoing similar concerns, Egypt’s representative said explosive remnants from the Second World War continued to cause casualties in his country and were hindering development.  He called on those countries responsible for laying mines to cooperate, especially in locating mines and providing funding.  Croatia’s delegate pointed out that mine-contaminated areas persisted in his country.  As such, he remained deeply concerned that anti-personnel landmines continued to be used by States outside the Convention and non-State actors around the world.

Underscoring the importance of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the representative of Algeria said the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines remained real in more than 25 countries.  However, for its part, Algeria had achieved a major milestone with the destruction of more than 876,500 anti-personnel mines, he said.

During the debate, the Committee heard the introduction of a draft resolution on information on confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Germany Bangladesh, Guatemala, Czech Republic, Australia, Finland, Ukraine, Argentina, Mali, Italy, Singapore, New Zealand, Austria, Nigeria, Latvia, Niger and Iran.

The representative of the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 October, to continue its thematic debate on conventional weapons.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this morning to resume its thematic discussion on conventional weapons.  For background, see Press Release GA/DIS/3545 of 3 October.

Thematic Debate on Conventional Weapons

KARSTEN GEIER (Germany), Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, said that 24 countries had been invited to nominate experts for its first round of discussions from 29 August to 2 September in New York.  During those discussions, members had overwhelmingly shown a desire to deepen what had been achieved in the past.  The experts wished to make their report more action-oriented and contribute to universalizing recommendations.  Moreover, there was widespread agreement on a focus on State behaviour that presented a threat to international peace and security.  Experts also agreed on the politically stabilizing potential of non-binding norms, rules and principles for the responsible behaviour of States.

Turning to confidence-building measures, he said experts had suggested first implementing measures, such as transparency-building, that were easy to achieve.  They had also commented on the relationship between capacity-building and international peace and security in the context of information and communication technology.  They had pointed out that capacity-building should reflect national ownership.  Looking ahead, experts had discussed criteria that might help to formulate ideas.  There was a need for inclusiveness, transparency and balance, while also ensuring the continued opportunity for expert discussions.  The next round of talks would be held from 28 November through 2 December in Geneva, he said, expressing confidence that there was common will to build on the consensus that had been achieved by previous discussions.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said it was logical to address the threats posed by the illicit flow of arms and ammunition under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  An opportunity to advance the dialogue would come in December at the fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.  There must be stronger international cooperation to help developing and least-developed countries to improve their capacity vis-à-vis such new challenges as the three-dimensional printing of small arms.

SOLEDAD URRUELA ARENALES (Guatemala), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the fight against illicit trafficking in arms was a high priority for her Government.  The speed with which the Arms Trade Treaty came into force had demonstrated a high degree of commitment on the part of the international treaty.  But, it was a young treaty, she said, stressing the importance of convening conferences of its States parties to ensure its effectiveness.  Work must continue on its full implementation to ensure that all countries followed the same standards.  Noting that the real value of guns was dependent on a steady supply of bullets, she called for ammunition to be included in the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

PATRICIA O’BRIEN (Ireland) said the use of explosive weapons with widespread effects in populated areas posed serious challenges.  Raising consciousness and strengthening the application of international humanitarian law in relation to preventing civilian harm from the use of such weapons was a matter of urgency, which should be addressed at the upcoming Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Review Conference.  Turning to the question of lethal autonomous weapons, she said it would be timely for the Review Conference to set up a group of governmental experts to take work on that issue forward.  States parties to the Convention should also engage at the expert level on the issue of mines other than anti-personnel mines, which were a continuing matter of humanitarian concern.

VACLAV BALEK (Czech Republic) said the use of small arms and light weapons caused thousands of deaths and injuries every year.  Their illicit trade and excessive stockpiling adversely affected regional and international security.  Such weapons could contribute to terrorism and organized crime and also played a major factor in spreading conflicts and in the collapse of State structures.  In that context, the Czech Republic remained committed to working with all Member States in addressing those challenges within the framework of the Programme of Action on Small Arms.  At the same time, his Government continued to support measures to ensure adequate marking of and record-keeping of small arms and light weapons, he said.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was a valuable multilateral instrument that offered a credible platform to discuss both ongoing and emerging issues.  That was particularly important given the emergence of new technologies and the changing landscape of disarmament.  Likewise, the Mine Ban Convention had made a crucial contribution to the strengthening of international humanitarian law, he said.  As a country with mine-contaminated areas on its territory, Croatia was all too aware of the threat those weapons posed to the everyday livelihoods of people.  In that vein, he remained deeply concerned that anti-personnel landmines continued to be used by States outside of the Convention and non-State actors around the world.  The use of anti-personnel mines caused irreparable humanitarian harm and was never acceptable, he said.

SABRINA DALLAFIOR MATTER (Switzerland) noted how conventional weapons in conflict situations contributed to the displacement of millions of people.  She called for universal adherence to the Arms Trade Treaty, adding that its voluntary trust fund would be important to ensure international assistance for its implementation.  She emphasized the need for more discussions on the safe and secure management of ammunition.  Stockpiles often fell into the wrong hands, while explosions occurred at ammunition sites on average every two weeks.  Switzerland would hold a workshop on the issue in November, she said, inviting all Member States to attend.  Underlining how technological developments could lead to new forms of warfare, she said States must be in a position to ensure conformity with international law.  The weaponization of robotics would require particular attention and oversight by the international community.

MARIE-GAËLLE ROBLES (France) said the illicit arms trade continued to feed conflict, exacerbated armed violence and fuelled terrorism and organized crime.  A certain number of actions had already been taken, yet the international community must pursue further collective engagement, she said, noting that the Programme of Action on Small Arms Review Conference in 2018 would strengthen the coherence of efforts.  Turning to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Review Conference, she said that it was unique in the multilateral landscape because it brought together complementary expertise.  That specificity was a guarantee of the Convention’s ability to address current and future challenges.  France supported the continuation of dialogue on the issues relating to future systems and would like to see an agreement at the Review Conference to establish a group of governmental experts with a discussion mandate.  For its part, France had, in 2016, completed the destruction of its cluster munitions stockpiles two years ahead of the deadline.

JOHN QUINN (Australia) said that, as one of the vice-presidents of the Arms Trade Treaty, his country would focus in the coming year on its universalization and implementation in the Asia-Pacific region.  Australia was also a leading donor to the United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation, which was considering nearly 60 applications from organizations seeking funding to support conventional arms regulation initiatives around the world.  In 2016, Australia had marked the twentieth anniversary of its comprehensive gun law reform, which had been prompted by a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996.  The agreement, along with strong border controls, had lowered Australia’s gun violence rates compared to other parts of the world, which was firm evidence that having fewer guns in circulation reduced the occurrence of gun-related deaths and injuries.  On anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, Australia had funded a long-term mine action programme in Cambodia.  He urged States parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention, Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction to clear their debts so that annual meetings and review conferences could proceed.

ABDELKARIM AIT ABDESLAM (Algeria) said his Government had spared no efforts in dismantling criminal networks and fighting against the growing scourge of terrorism.  Subregional, regional and international cooperation was critical to ensure effective border controls and to achieve the eradication of the illicit arms trade.  In that respect, Algeria had participated in all relevant initiatives undertaken in Africa and the Arab world.  To make progress, it was crucial to get adequate assistance from developed countries, the United Nations and other international organizations, which could strengthen national capacities to fight against the illicit trade.  Underscoring the importance of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, he said the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines remained real in more than 25 countries, including Algeria.  “Our engagement to date has seen us achieve a major milestone,” he said, noting the destruction of more than 876,500 anti-personnel mines.

KAI SAUER (Finland), describing the Arms Trade Treaty as a landmark instrument that provided effective international standards for trade in conventional arms, said at the second Conference of State Parties his country had been selected as President for one year.  On the role of national implementation, he said it required strengthening national laws, regulations and enforcement mechanisms.  One of the tasks during the presidency was to promote the universalization of the Treaty, he said, calling upon those that had not yet done so to ratify the instrument.  Among other things, he welcomed the outcome of the Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms.  The document had provided a good basis for future work towards the next review conference in 2018.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), noting that an estimated 875 million small arms and light weapons were currently in circulation, expressed deep concern that hundreds of thousands of such weapons were transferred to illicit markets and non-State actors, including terrorist groups.  He condemned the use of armed drones to carry out extrajudicial killings, which contravened international law.  Left unchecked, they could be misused by Governments and non-State actors.  That could also happen with new technologies, such as robots, once they had been militarized.  He noted that cluster munitions were having a devastating impact on civilians in places like Gaza and went on to highlight the threat posed by the overproduction of conventional weapons, especially when they fall in the hands of terrorist groups.  In that regard, an international agreement was needed to limit those weapons beyond what was needed for self-defence.

ANDRIY TSYMBALIUK (Ukraine) said the existing conventional arms control system had been significantly damaged by Russian Federation’s military aggression against his country.  Massive transfers of military goods into Crimea and eastern Ukraine had destabilized European security while challenging the implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms.  Illicit supplies of conventional weapons from the Russian Federation to Russia-guided illegal armed groups in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine could not be ignored.  Ukraine had to deal today with a drastically increased number of explosive remnants of war, which were causing severe casualties among civilians, including children.  Explosive remnants of war and anti-personnel mines planted by illegal armed groups in violation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons posed more of a threat to civilians than to military personnel, he said.

MARÍA PAULA MAC LOUGHLIN (Argentina) said the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), introduced a draft text titled “Information on confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms” (A/C.1/71/L.8), aimed at renewing dialogue on the topic.  Important developments were taking place in the area of confidence building, but delegations lacked information, she explained.  The purpose of the text was to strengthen knowledge about new developments.  It was aimed at the voluntary provision of information on confidence-building measures with the assistance of the Secretary-General to maintain an electronic database, she said, expressing hope that the draft text would be approved by consensus.

SIDIKY KOITA (Mali) said that despite initiatives that had been undertaken by the international community to combat and eliminate illicit arms trafficking, that criminal activity maintained conflicts, exacerbated violence and fuelled organized crime in countries around the world.  In Mali, the illicit spread of light weapons to terrorist groups had fuelled the security crisis in the northern regions.  It was an obstacle to Mali’s peace and reconciliation agreement and had undermined Government efforts to provide economic and social stability.  He called for the international community to help Mali to tackle the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which was the main cause of insecurity in western Africa.  In that context, he called on Member States to reaffirm their support for a draft resolution presented every year by Mali’s delegation that would provide assistance to States to end the illicit trade and proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

PALMA D’AMBROSIO (Italy) said her Government had successfully completed the destruction of the country’s anti-personnel mine stockpiles in 2002 and cluster munitions in 2015.  At the international level, Italy continued to allocate material, technical and financial resources to implement comprehensive mine action programmes.  Since 2001, it had devoted approximately €50 million to areas such as clearance, stockpile destruction and victim assistance.  It also provided training programmes and demining technical knowledge, relying on partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including the United Nations, other international organizations, civil society and survivor representatives.  On small arms and light weapons, it was critical to ensure the full implementation and universalization of the Arms Trade Treaty and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, known as the Palermo Protocol.

LIM TONG HAI (Singapore) reaffirmed the sovereign right of States to acquire arms for legitimate defence and responsible law enforcement purposes.  The illicit arms trade had been a key enabler to conflicts, he said, emphasizing that Singapore fully supported efforts to deal with the threat of illegal weapons.  As one of the busiest transhipment ports, the nation was committed to play its part in eliminating that trade.  His Government welcomed the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and was currently reviewing its domestic processes to achieve an early ratification.  Singapore also supported initiatives against the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and conventional weapons.

HAMZA A. H. ALOKLY (Libya), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled how, during the revolution in his country, the contents of its arsenals had been opened up and then dispersed both within and outside its borders.  In signing the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013, Libya had reaffirmed its commitment to combating the illicit arms trade, he said, emphasizing the sovereign right of all States to regulate conventional weapons on their territory.  Sharing the international community’s concern about anti-personnel mines, he said Libya had suffered from such weapons since the Second World War.  Mechanisms should be established to help States in similar situations to clear them, with the colonial countries bearing the cost.

KATY DONNELLY (New Zealand) said the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons had not always been able to deliver outcomes on several important issues using focus on international humanitarian law.  When it was necessary to secure an outcome with an appropriate emphasis on the protection of civilians, New Zealand’s response in going outside the Convention had led to positive results.  Nevertheless, her Government supported, in principle, for a Convention’s framework approach.  She hoped the outcome of the 2016 Review Conference would position the Convention so that it would remain relevant and responsive to contemporary concerns, including issues related to anti-personnel mines and lethal autonomous weapons systems.

FRANZ JOSEF KUGLITSCH (Austria) said the prevention of human suffering must remain at the heart of the international community’s efforts and a gender perspective should be incorporated in all disarmament initiatives.  The indiscriminate effects and humanitarian consequences of anti-personnel mines continued to cause great tragedies.  In that regard, victim assistance was a high priority for his Government.  He expressed concern about the use of cluster munitions in a number of conflicts and called on actors to refrain from deploying such weapons.  At the same time, the use of explosive weapons was a major cause for civilian harm, resulting in 40,000deaths in 2015, a figure that was higher than military casualties.  As one of the first States that had ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, Austria welcomed its entry into force, as it was an important contribution to human security, human rights and development.

JOHN CHIKA EJINAKA (Nigeria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said many people in Nigeria and elsewhere had experienced the consequences of illicit small arms and light weapons falling into the hands of criminal gangs, terrorist groups and indiscriminately armed groups and militants.  In that regard, Nigeria commended renewed efforts by all States, welcomed the sixth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms, and looked forward to its review conference.  He urged large producing and exporting States that were not yet party to the Arms Trade Treaty to ensure their timely accession.  There was no longer a risk that terrorists might obtain and use conventional weapons on a large scale, as they already possessed them and were effectively deploying them, he concluded.

KARIM ISMAEL (Egypt), also associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern over the impact of the spread of small arms and light weapons, especially as they often fell into the hands of non-State actors and terrorist and armed criminal groups.  He urged more cooperation on the part of exporting and producing countries, while emphasizing the right of States to manufacture and transfer weapons for their own defence and security.  Explosive remnants from the Second World War continued to cause casualties in Egypt and were hindering development, he said, calling on those countries responsible for laying mines to shoulder their responsibilities and cooperate, especially in locating mines and providing funding.  Enormous technological advances in the field of autonomous weapons must lead the international community and relevant agencies to focus more on the threat they posed, taking into account gaps in existing international regimes.

JĀNIS MAŽEIKS (Latvia) said the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was an important tool to increase awareness about existing challenges and address emerging issues by gathering competent diplomatic, legal and military expertise.  Supporting efforts aimed at achieving the universalization of the Convention, he urged States that had not yet done so to join the Amended Protocol II.  Latvia shared the international community’s concerns about the alleged use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in civilian areas in Syria.  Expressing support for the full implementation of the Mine Ban Convention, he said anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance of war posed a significant threat to civilians long after an armed conflict had ended.

ISSA OUMAR (Niger) said the issue of disarmament and the control over the production, trade and sale of small arms and light weapons was important for the promotion of international peace and security.  West Africa and the Sahel region continued to be greatly affected by the uncontrolled circulation of conventional weapons resulting from conflicts.  The emergence of Boko Haram and events in Libya and Mali had demonstrated the fragility of arms control systems.  Nevertheless, arms control must remain a key policy in preserving peace and security.  In that vein, Niger had undertaken a number of national initiatives to collect and control illicit arms.  With the support of partners like the United Nations, it was pursuing a programme to safeguard and manage the arsenal of its defence forces.  He strongly encouraged international assistance and cooperation to help States to overcome challenges to technical progress in the tracing of small arms and light weapons.

NKOLOI NKOLOI (Botswana), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, expressed concern about the use of high-calibre projectiles, particularly those with a wide area of impact.  Complicating the issue were technological developments, including unmanned air vehicles, drones and autonomous weapons.  While recognizing the strategic and operational requirements for such weapons, he said there was a need for serious and sober examination of how they were employed.  That discourse should be guided and informed by international humanitarian law, among other instruments.  For most nations, meagre resources were being diverted to arms procurement while economic and social development was being neglected, he said, emphasizing that given the current trend, the 2030 Agenda would undoubtedly be affected.

CHUNJIE LI (China) said China had faithfully implemented its obligation under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  It was committed to international humanitarian assistance, hosting a demining training course for Cambodia and providing relevant material to Egypt and Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 2016.  China supported in-depth discussions on humanitarian problems caused by lethal autonomous weapons under appropriate frameworks.  He proposed a holistic approach to addressing the illicit arms trade, which had been aggravated by certain countries’ irresponsible transfers to non-State actors.  That approach would include international cooperation, with the United Nations as the main channel.  States should take primary responsibility for eradicating the illicit arms trade and prohibiting the transfer of weapons to non-State actors.

SEYED MOHAMMED ALI ROBATJAZI (Iran) said the situation in the Middle East had been exacerbated by a number of elements, including the large influx of foreign terrorist fighters, aggressive actions towards Yemen and enormous arms imports by certain oil-rich countries mirroring a manifold increase in their military budgets.  Despite being surrounded by such a situation, Iran continued to maintain one of the lowest levels of military expenditure.  During the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, Iran had insisted on the inclusion of a prohibition of the export of arms to aggressors and foreign occupiers, he said.  However, that proposal had been rejected by certain States that had claimed to be responsible arms exporters and were now making the largest-ever deals with States that had disregarded international humanitarian law.  As such, he called for the cessation of irresponsible arms exports to prevent the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.  As a country engaged in that fight, he underlined the importance of the full implementation of the International Tracing Instrument and the Programme of Action on Small Arms.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his counterpart from Ukraine had made absurd accusations that had nothing to do with the First Committee’s work.  The Ukrainian authorities had yet to fulfil their requirements under the Minsk Agreements.

The representative of Ukraine said the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk had been caused by Russian aggression that had started with the occupation of Crimea.  Ukraine had fully complied with its obligations under the Minsk Agreements.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine was not an internal one and the conflict in Donetsk would be settled almost immediately, with no outside assistance, if the Russian Federation withdrew its military personnel and armaments.

The representative of the United States said the Russian Federation’s unilateral actions had violated the United Nations Charter.  Crimea remained part of the Ukraine, he said.

The representative of the Russian Federation said there had been no aggression by his country in Ukraine.  The Crimea issue had been solved in a referendum, with 95 per cent of the population calling for autonomy and asking to return to Russia.

The representative of Ukraine said he totally rejected the statement that Crimea was part of the Russian Federation’s territory and that the issue had been settled.

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