Didier Reynders: Belgium committed to prevent the use of autonomous lethal weapons systems

In view of the international discussions which will take place from 25 to 29 March in Geneva, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence Didier Reynders reiterates the important commitment of Belgium to prevent the introduction of new “autonomous” weapons systems which pose a real humanitarian and ethical problem.

Indeed, progress in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence are raising essential ethical questions, particularly with regard to the use that could be made of them to produce Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (“LAWS”).

In order to make multilateral discussions progress, Belgium, along with Luxembourg and Ireland, will suggest concrete paths on the international definition and regulation of “LAWS”. One of these will be to narrow down which autonomous weapons systems should be banned internationally. More specifically, autonomous weapons capable of killing without any human intervention will be targeted.

In line with our tradition in the field of arms control, Belgium, through close cooperation between Defence and Foreign Affairs, has been actively involved in international discussions within the “LAWS” Group of Governmental Experts since its inception. These discussions are intense and a long-term endeavour. A first complex but an indispensable challenge is, in particular, to reach an international definition of what constitutes or not a system of autonomous lethal weapons. Belgium hopes that, in the long run, it will be possible to agree on an effective international approach with sufficiently broad and diverse support to have a real impact.

On the domestic front, Belgium has already put in place instruments to rule out the use of weapons that are contrary to international humanitarian law. Our country applies in particular Article 36 of the First Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which imposes the obligation to assess the legality of any new weapon under international law.