Ukraine: Putin has 'framed the debate' surrounding de-escalation

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Over 30 countries, including China, have called for a legally binding instrument to be introduced to regulate these terrifying weapons, which have been dubbed “slaughterbots”. But Politico reported that the discussions at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) were “torpedoed” by Russia, who are supposedly keen to use and develop these lethal weapons. As a result, no agreement was reached at the United Nations (UN) conference held just before Christmas.

Discussions were held on how to regulate these lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS), but the pushback from big military spenders appeared to quell any progress.

The US, a big military spender like Russia, also signalled its disapproval, instead calling for a non-binding code of conduct.

And this comes as Russian troops have piled up 100,000 strong at the Russia-Ukraine border, with fears that President Vladimir Putin might launch an invasion on Ukraine.

The chair of the US House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, warned on Sunday that Russia is “very likely” to invade Ukraine.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement: “President Biden made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”

But whether these “slaughterbots” will be used in combat remains to be seen.

Emilia Javorsky, who leads nonprofit Future of Life Institute’s advocacy program against autonomous weapons, warned that the technology poses an “urgent threat”.

She said: “It is now blatantly clear this forum — whose unanimity requirement makes it easily derailed by any state with a vested interest — is utterly incapable of taking seriously, let alone meaningfully addressing, the urgent threats posed by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.”

But while campaigners have pushed to ban these weapons altogether, progress has appeared limited.

Ms Javorsky told CNBC the fact that no agreement had been reached at the CCW was an “epic failure”.

Verity Coyle, a senior advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement: “The CCW has once again demonstrated its inability to make meaningful progress – it’s now time that committed states take the lead on an external process that can deliver the type of breakthrough we’ve previously seen on landmines and cluster munitions.”

And according to a U.N report from last spring, these killer bots have already been used in combat.

It was found that military drones made by Turkish company STM have been used in Libya’s civil war.

The UN report claimed that militia fighters hunted down and “remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems” used by government-backed forces.

Zachary Kallenborn, a research affiliate with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, College Park told LiveScience: “Autonomous weapons as a concept are not all that new. Landmines are essentially simple autonomous weapons — you step on them and they blow up.

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“What’s potentially new here are autonomous weapons incorporating artificial intelligence.”

But Ms Javorsky has signalled that not all hope is lost, appearing hopeful that an agreement can be reached to stop hell from being unleashed.

She said: “This may arise at the United Nations General Assembly or as an independent treaty process, as successfully occurred for land mines, cluster munitions.”

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