Australia

Following a raft of ratifications this week, the Arms Trade Treaty is 4/5 of the way toward entry into force.

Paying-the-priceDepositing their instruments of ratification on Tuesday were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Samoa. They join 30 other countries that’ve become full members of the treaty since its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2, 2013. Ten more joinders are needed for the treaty to take effect.

In its 28 articles, the Arms Trade Treaty provides for states parties’ regulation of traffic in a range of arms, from battle tanks to light weapons. (Prior posts available here.) As indicated by the Control Arms poster above, regulating the latter is a principal aim of treaty proponents. (image credit)

Among the 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (among them major arms-exporting states), Britain and France have ratified. The United States signed last September, but the treaty has not been presented to the Senate for consideration. China has not signed; Deutsche Welle reported this week:

‘China has indicated that it would consider signing if the US ratified, which is unlikely to happen.’

And in late May, the Voice of Russia reported that the Russian Federation would not sign, for the following reasons:

‘Russia considers this document to be not completely thought through. It also discriminates against the Russian military-industrial complex.’

IWC latest logo 210x64Some lawmakers and lobbyists in Japan displayed their distaste for whaling bans this week with a whale-meat eat-in in Tokyo. The Japan Daily Press reported:

‘In an act of defiance against a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) halting the nation’s whale hunts, pro-whaling legislators and lobby group gathered on Tuesday to eat whale meat while pledging to continue what they call one of the country’s centuries-old traditions.’

Stoking these opponents’ appetite was the March 31 judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening). (Prior posts here and here.) The Hague-based court held 12-to-4 that Japan had violated the 1946 International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling by granting permits to harvest 3 species of whales areasin an area of the seas known as the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. (In yellow on map at right; see p. 3 here.) Japan asserted that a scientific research exception to the Convention’s whaling ban justified the hunts. But a majority of the ICJ disagreed, in a ruling that Rutgers Professor Cymie Payne analyzed in a recent ASIL Insight. (credit for above logo of the International Whaling Commission, which monitors compliance with the Convention)

Yesterday, the Japan Times reported, Japan’s government announced that it would still engage in what it calls research whaling, albeit at a reduced rate and in regions other than the area of concern to the ICJ case. The report indicated that the decision to go forward marked a victory for Japan’s Fisheries Ministry and a defeat for its Foreign Ministry.

Particularly vocal among the opponents of the ICJ’s ruling has been the man who’s served as Fisheries Minister since last December: Yoshimasa Hayashi, a Harvard Kennedy School graduate. Hayashi spoke at the Tokyo banquet on Tuesday. And in a February interview with Japan Times, he explained his position:

‘Japan is an island nation surrounded by the sea, so taking some good protein from the ocean is very important. For food security, I think it’s very important … We have never said everybody should eat whale, but we have a long tradition and culture of whaling. So why don’t we at least agree to disagree? We have this culture and you don’t have that culture.’

Payne’s Insight agreed that, notwithstanding the March 31 issuance of the ICJ’s opinion, resolution of “fundamental cultural conflict[s]” awaits another day.

nwc_leftCan the laws of war constrain robot warriors? Is international humanitarian law adaptable to the use of weapons that possess artificial intelligence? To what extent can such weapon systems determine who is, and who is not, a combatant? To what extent must humans control the decision to kill the enemy?

These questions and others fostered a fascinating discussion at “Legal Implications of Autonomous Weapon Systems,” a workshop at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, this past Thursday and Friday. We four dozen or so attendees were drawn from the armed forces of the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, and Israel, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and from a global array of academic institutions.

As one who reserves just a couple days for the topic in my Laws of War course, I came to the workshop with more questions than answers about the actual and potential uses in armed conflict of robots, the shorthand term I’ll use here for “autonomous weapons systems.” The military, characteristically, prefers an acronym: AWS.

The actual use of such weapons already is significant. Smart missiles called JDAMs deliver munitions to a target, while a WALL·E-looking machine called SWORDS has, as the U.S. Department of Defense wrote in 2004, “march[ed] into battle” alongside troops.

In fact, such machines tend not to be used in a fully independent manner (though with a little reprogramming, some could be). They are, we were told, semi-autonomous – humans are kept “in” or “on” the loop leading to choice of target and other decisions.

This mention of human supervision, like the WALL·E-on-the-march metaphor above, pointed to a pivotal workshop topic:

nwc_right►  Is it appropriate, as a matter of law or of ethics, to indulge in the human tendency to anthropomorphize these machines?

Apparently, some lab robots can recognize – or at least can mimic the act of recognizing – themselves in a mirror. Does this mean they are, or soon will be, sufficiently human-like to conduct operations wholly without oversight by actual humans? Might human-like robots evolve an ability to refuse programmed orders – orders that limited action to the boundaries of international humanitarian law? The answers to these questions, like many at the workshop, seemed to be “perhaps yes, perhaps no.”

At one end of the spectrum, this uncertainty has spurred a call for an outright ban. Emblematic is the headline of a notice about the November 2012 release of the Human Rights Watch report, Losing Humanity:

‘Ban ‘Killer Robots’ Before It’s Too Late: Fully Autonomous Weapons Would Increase Danger to Civilians’

At the other end of the spectrum, some would prefer to let the technology develop before the onset of any new legal regulation.

Many seem to fall in between. Acknowledged were some challenges; for instance:

► Does compliance with the precautions requirement of Article 57 of the Additional Protocol I (1977) to the four Geneva Conventions (1949) preclude the use of a fully autonomous weapon?

► Would the robotic commission of a war crime be susceptible to sanctions by global justice mechanisms like the International Criminal Court, and if not, what effective sanctions and deterrents would there be?

Persons falling in the vast middle of the regulatory spectrum harbored concerns about such questions, yet seemed to lean toward the view that if due care is taken, international humanitarian law can – and should – be applied. Documents discussed in this vein included the:

► U.S. Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, ¶ 4(a) (November 12, 2012), which states as “DoD policy” the following:

‘Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgement over the use of force.’

heyns► April 9, 2013 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council by University of Pretoria Law Professor Christof Heyns, who’s served since 2010 as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. At ¶ 108 of his report, Heyns termed the 2012 Defense Directive as “imposing a form of moratorium” with respect to what he termed “lethal autonomous robotics,” or LARs. Heyns’ 2013 U.N. report (¶ 35) favored a broader scope for delay:

‘The present report … calls on States to impose national moratoria on certain activities related to LARs.’

A reprise of such issues likely will occur at the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems set for May 13 to 16 in Geneva under the auspices of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Named in full 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 as amended on 21 December 2001, this treaty has 117 states parties, including the United States.

The Naval War College International Law Department workshop’s vital and timely discussion exposed many avenues for study – study sooner rather than later, so that the legal regulatory framework may be determined before fully autonomous robots are fully deployed.

Women of the ICJ2
Further to Cymie Payne’s excellent IntLawGrrls post regarding ongoing oral hearings before the International Court of Justice in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) (webcasts and transcripts available here; prior post here):

Cymie cites among the “great international litigators” on the case Laurence Boisson de Chazournes (below), a professor of international law at the University of Geneva. Also well worth mentioning, of course, is the work done on this case by the jurists depicted above – the Women of the ICJ. ICJ Judge Xue Hanqin of China stands at left. At right is ICJ Judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda; next to her, ICJ Judge Joan E. Donoghue of the United States. laurenceBetween Donoghue and Xue is ICJ Judge ad hoc Hilary Charlesworth, an Australian National University international law professor (not to mention an IntLawGrrls contributor). They flank the portrait of the ICJ’s first woman member, Rosalyn Higgins of Great Britain. She began service as an ICJ Judge in 1995– four years after the publications of a milestone article in which Charlesworth et al. decried the absence of women on that bench. Higgins was the ICJ’s President from 2006 until her retirement in 2009.

(With thanks to Don Anton for forwarding the featured group photo)