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Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 2017.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 12:00 am, 27th November 2017

What assessment he has made of the future threat posed by lethal autonomous weapons; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The MOD continuously monitors developments and challenges arising from emerging weapon technology, including increasingly automated weapons systems. The UK considers the UN convention on certain conventional weapons to be the right forum in which to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems, and welcomes the progress made in Geneva by the group of government experts earlier this month.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Weapons that can kill without human instruction or accountability are not science fiction, but a worrying potential reality with huge moral consequences. If we are to secure international agreement on the control of these lethal autonomous weapons, we need to start from a common understanding of the challenge, so will the Minister re-evaluate the UK’s definition of autonomous weapons systems to bring it into line with that of the United Nations?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My understanding is that there is no international agreement on what an autonomous weapons system is, which is precisely why calls for, for example, pre-emptive bans would be inappropriate at this point. The task in hand is absolutely to get an internationally agreed definition, and we believe that the UN CCW is the right forum in which to do so.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells

Does the Minister agree that no matter what the advances of technology on the battlefield, only humans can effectively hold ground, deterring enemy activity and winning the hearts and minds of local communities, and that we will therefore always need an Army of about the current size or larger?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We will definitely always need an Army.