Launching our weapons database, Freetown and Vienna, CCW read-out (includes haiku), policy updates, and more

This is Anna Hehir, FLI’s Lead on Military AI, and Maggie Munro, Communications Strategist, coming to you with the first edition of The Autonomous Weapons Newsletter. We’re excited to bring you the news on autonomous weapons at a pivotal moment, as the world comes to terms with whether algorithms should make life and death decisions (spoiler alert: most people are terrified).

With this monthly publication, we look forward to keeping our audience - primarily consisting of policymakers, journalists, and diplomats - up-to-date on the autonomous weapons space, covering policymaking efforts, weapons systems technology, and more.

That being said, if you have no idea what we’re talking about, check out for our starter guide on the topic.

As we launch this new publication, we’re asking for your help. If you’ve enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe and share as widely as possible.

Autonomous Weapons Watch

Along with this newsletter, we’re also proud to launch our new Autonomous Weapons Watch database.

This public database is intended to inform journalists, policymakers, and the general public of autonomous weapons capabilities.

Using open source data, the database will track, monitor, and share updates on the most concerning autonomous weapons in operation in conflict areas, purchased and integrated into military units, and in various stages of experimental development.

We’ll also share trend analysis reports here.

To receive these updates in your X feed, follow @AW_watch and turn on post notifications for the latest developments.

Upcoming Conferences

We’re excited to be attending two international autonomous weapons conferences in April that are bringing new regions into the discussion, and are putting the topic front and centre as an urgent, global issue.

  • Freetown, 17-18 April: Following in the footsteps of Costa Rica, Luxembourg, CARICOM and the Philippines, Sierra Leone will host an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) conference titled “Peace and Security Aspect of Autonomous Weapons Systems: an ECOWAS Perspective on a path forward towards the negotiation process of a legally binding instrument”. We’re hearing that seats are filling up fast in Freetown. More information can be found here.

  • Vienna, 29-30 April: Two weeks later, the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs will host “Humanity at the Crossroads: Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Challenge of Regulation”. This will be the first global state-led conference on autonomous weapons. Click here for more information; registration closes April 8.

Policy Updates

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons - Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems Meeting 4-8 March 2024:

Ah spring in Genève
Dot points and definitions
Yet veto gridlock persists

With everything going on in the autonomous weapons governance world, from Vienna to Freetown, you can’t be blamed for forgetting about the CCW. But in case you did, here are some updates, including a haiku* above to convey things that not even succinct dot points can.

To get everyone up to speed, here is a quick rundown on the CCW Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons:

  • The CCW is the forum where autonomous weapons have been discussed at the UN for the past ten years, meeting twice a year, and bringing together states, observers and civil society.

  • The CCW has 127 States Parties, leaving 66 other UN member states unable to participate in the discussions.

  • The CCW operates under a consensus principle, which means that any single country (read: Russia) can obstruct any agreement or action. This has affected the group’s mandate, how many days they meet each year, and whether civil society organisations can participate.

  • No new international law has been adopted in the CCW for over 20 years.

Connect the dots: At this particular CCW GGE, the presiding chair from the Netherlands found an innovative approach for states to discuss, inviting them to deliberate over dot point statements rather than large chunks of text. This, undoubtedly, gave states a sense of ‘progress’ and produced a good feeling in the room. For the full readout, take a look at Reaching Critical Will’s recent report.

Same song, same dance: The states who want to block progress are enabled by the forum’s consensus voting mechanism, those who want to be seen progressing the issue engage in over-complicated circular discussions on definitions and characterisation, and those who actually want progress understand that a treaty will be negotiated outside of the CCW.

DIY deathbots: Whilst the diplomats were hashing over how to define an autonomous weapon for the tenth year in a row, a man took to X to warn folks that he had created a home-made autonomous weapon that could easily track an individual based on a target profile and kill them with a basic payload of explosives.

Now seen in Mali: Weapon producer STM from Turkey, infamous for supplying the systems that the UN in 2021 said had “hunted down and remotely engaged” retreating soldiers in Libya, has exported its (non-autonomous) Bayraktar TB-2 system to Mali. One wonders whether states are correctly trading off inclusivity against the escalating risk of proliferation.

Conference wave continues: As the CCW steadfastly persists, the groundswell of momentum is coming from state-led conferences such as those in Costa Rica, Luxembourg, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Philippines. Stay tuned for readouts from Freetown and Vienna.

*Apologies to the haiku connoisseurs for the two extra syllables.

Contact Us

If you have any tips, information, questions, feedback, or compliments, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected].