Tuesday, March 28, 2023

“We don’t want killer robots”

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Asked EDA officer Reto Wollenmann about Switzerland’s attitude towards killer robots

“We don’t want killer robots”

Switzerland wants to expressly ban autonomous weapons that do not meet the requirements of international humanitarian law. Reto Wollenmann from the FDFA explains why an international agreement is still a long way off.


Reto Wollenmann is deputy head of arms control at the Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA.

Interview: Marguerite Meyer and Ariane Lüthi

Mr. Wollenmann, you are responsible for arms control, disarmament and cyber security in the foreign department. What is the Swiss position on autonomous weapons?
Reto Wollenmann: Switzerland doesn’t want killer robots! It is therefore clearly opposed to the development of fully autonomous weapons. At the same time, artificial intelligence is a reality today and not bad per se. We use them everywhere in everyday life. But with weapon systems, clear legal and ethical limits for autonomy are needed.

How does Switzerland intend to regulate this issue internationally?
Switzerland is committed to an international regulation. She wants to expressly ban autonomous weapons that cannot meet the requirements of international humanitarian law. Such weapons would be a violation of international humanitarian law and of high ethical concern. In addition, Switzerland wants the use of all other autonomous weapons to be internationally controlled and regulated. You have to set clear limits to autonomy. This means that people retain control and bear responsibility. The decision about a person’s life or death must not be left to an algorithm. Switzerland supports the negotiations in Geneva, which want to record these principles in a protocol.

What is the status of the negotiations?
The work of the expert group in Geneva has been going on since 2014. We have already made important conceptual progress. In 2019, the states agreed on eleven guiding principles. Compliance with international humanitarian law is the top priority. Unfortunately, negotiations with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine have stalled. At least it was agreed to continue the talks next year.

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