For the CCW’s informal meeting of experts on LAWS, this briefing paper looks at national level legal reviews of new weapons, means and methods of warfare under the framework of article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, in the context of international discussions on autonomous weapons systems.
A number of states have suggested that action around national legal reviews could constitute a basis for addressing the serious concerns that LAWS raise, as articulated by states, international organisations and civil society. Attention to improving and widening the implementation of weapons reviews, and states’ sharing of their procedures, is welcome and necessary. This paper provides an analysis suggesting that national reviews are, however, insufficient to deal with LAWS. It argues that multilateral agreement is essential in this area in order to provide clear boundaries for all states on technologies and practices that would fundamentally alter the use of force. CCW activity around weapons reviews could usefully be separated from consideration of LAWS, and widened to consider the topic of reviews in relation to all weapons, means and methods of warfare. Indeed, proposals for the CCW to focus on weapons reviews have been made previously by civil society and international organisations, prior to the adoption of autonomous weapons as a topic for discussion at the CCW.
This paper discusses some of the key questions that might be considered by those proposing to address LAWS through national level weapons reviews, and suggests how international action to improve national reviews could nevertheless be advanced.