Structure 2017-2018

1.     Overarching Themes

The work of the Panel follows from two overarching themes, namely definitions for lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and possible regulations for these systems. The findings will be published in “Focus on” Reports and in the final recommendations at the end of the project.

1.1.  What are useful (working) definitions for LAWS?

  • Purpose: Should we define LAWS? What could be alternative approaches?
  • Type: What should be the features of a definition?
  • Scope: How broad or narrow should the definition be?
  • Limitations: Which elements cannot be defined?

1.2.  How can effective regulation be crafted to apply to LAWS?

  • Purpose: What are the reasons to regulate LAWS?
  • Type: What are possible characteristics of a regulation for LAWS, e.g., focused on intent, context?
  • Scope: What are possibilities for enforcement, verification mechanisms etc., and how are they interrelated with the type of regulation?
  • Limitations: What are technical/ legal/ strategic impediments to the regulation of LAWS?


2.     Topics of the Meetings

The results will be used to inform the overarching questions and will be published in “Focus on…”-reports after each meeting. The research questions below have been drafted by the Panel’s members and might change over the course of the project.

2.1.  IHL and Other Fields of LAW

  • Overview of CCW and GGE process as well as IHL (particularly the scope that applies to LAWS)
  • How to apply principles from relevant conventions, treaties, and IHL to LAWS?
  • Article 36: How does the interpretation of Art. 36 vary from state to state? Are the interpretations sufficient for effective review of LAWS for IHL compliance? What new challenges do LAWS pose to Article 36?
  • How do different countries’ domestic policies treat LAWS?


2.2.  State of Technology and Operations

  • What does the current and projected state of technology, particularly dual use technology, imply for LAWS?
  • What are the major enabling components (platforms, sensors, processors, power, and communication)?
  • What factors distinguish LAWS from other weapons (platforms)?
  • What types of military missions are being considered for LAWS?
  • Which countries are pursuing LAWS?
  • What is the state of technical test and evaluation procedures for LAWS?
  • How do states and other actors currently define LAWS (and what is the motivation behind that)?


2.3.  Computational Systems within the Scope of LAWS

Artificial Intelligence

  • What are the limitations to these system for complying with IHL?
  • What functions or capabilities within LAWS would be needed to comply with IHL?
  • What are the challenges for regulations regarding training and testing, the collection of data or a bias built-in to the system? How may these limitations be barriers to effective regulations, e.g. self-evolving algorithms after a review?
  • How are existing systems using automation and how is accountability addressed?


2.4.  Autonomy and Human Control

Faith, trust, and assurance in autonomy / Credibility, predictability, reliability in autonomy

  • What do these three categories mean in practice?
  • How does vulnerability change for different types of interactions?
  • How do those term/ideas fit into thinking about regulations?


2.5.  Ethics, Norms, and Public Perception


  • What are ethical approaches to deal with LAWS (pro and con)?


  • What international norms may have relevance to LAWS?
  • What norms are currently evolving (e.g. meaningful human control)?
  • How have previous successful social and legal norms been developed (e.g. incendiary weapons)?

Public Perception

  • What are the significant cultural differences in the perception of (machine) autonomy?
  • How can public perception and norms be harnessed to complement regulation (e.g. nuclear weapons, specifically neutron bomb)?
  • What are the limitations to public polls?
  • Does the Martens’ Clause apply to the case of LAWS and can it be invoked by public polls?


2.6.  LAWS – Risks and Opportunities

Within the context of specific kinds of weapons systems/specifications of LAWS:

  • What could be benefits from the use of LAWS? Which interests could states have in these systems?
  • Are there unique vulnerabilities to LAWS compared to conventional systems (e.g. cyber and electronic attack)?
  • What are the risks to escalation and international stability incurred by fielding LAWS? How could rules of engagement for de-escalation look like?
  • To what extend can testing address these risks?


  • What are the main drivers for the proliferation of this technology (e.g. dual use)?
  • Are there solutions to this problem?

How to regulate platforms/systems, which are not addressed by the CCW?


2.7.  Recommendation to the GGE

  • Based on our work how does our understanding of IHL principles and their application to LAWS inform a regulatory framework (within the CCW and beyond)?
  • Should we recommend adjustments to states’ implementation of Article 36? How might that inform our proposed regulation?


3.     Publication

All results will be published on the panel’s website as of April 2017. The editors will strive for consensus among the members before publishing these documents. This does not necessarily mean that all members share all views and positions – instead the documents should portray the panel’s debate on scientifically grounded options.