By Matthew Taylor
There is nothing Canadian about machines that kill people without human control. Machines that have no conscience. Machines that have no compassion. Machines without the ability to distinguish between someone who is a genuine threat and someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We, as a people, have for many years sought to build a safer and more peaceful world. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid in South Africa “the highest priority of the government of Canada in our foreign affairs.” Former Prime Minister Lester Pearson brought about modern peacekeeping in 1956. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy gathered states in our nation’s capital to end the use of anti-personnel landmines around the world. These men understood that a desire for peace and justice is a basic Canadian value. That is not something a machine can ever understand.
This issue presents us as Canadians with an opportunity to share our values, and our vision for a safer world. Killer Robots are perhaps the most important international arms control issue to emerge since nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons redefined how we understood and approached warfare. That is why it is so absolutely necessary for the world to confront the problem of killer robots before and not after they see action on the battlefield.
The costs of playing catch up are far too evident. Once weapons are employed, most countries will scramble to re-adjust for the change in balance in power. During World War I chemical weapons were used against Canadian soldiers causing blindness, death and unspeakable suffering. Nearly one hundred years later chemical weapons were being used in Syria causing death and significant harm to civilians. With thousands of casualties of chemical weapons in between, the difficulty of banning weapons once they have been put into use is quite evident.
History has shown that the support and leadership of our nation can bring about international change. We have a duty as moral entrepreneurs to prevent the horror of autonomous killing machines from ever becoming a reality.
In November 2013, states agreed to discuss the question of lethal autonomous robots in meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons in May, 2014. This umbrella agreement allows for 117 member states to consider issues of arms control.
But at the moment, the official Canadian government position on Killer Robots is unclear. A government statement in the February 2014 edition of L’actualite offers little insight. In the article, a Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman indicated that Canada does not ban weapons that do not yet exist. But in fact, Canada has participated in a pre-emptive ban of weapons before.
In 1995, Canada was one of the original parties to Protocol IV of the Convention to Conventional Weapons. This international agreement banning blinding lasers was made in the very same forum in which killer robots are set to be discussed in May. This not only represents a step in the right direction but a precedent upon which to build.
If a pre-emptive ban has been done before, it can be done again. Whether a weapon exists yet or not should have no bearing on whether the technology should be illegal under international humanitarian law. What should matter is whether we as a people believe that these weapons can ever be considered to be humane. To me, and to many others, the answer to that question is clearly no.
If you feel that as Canadians we must take a stand, please join me in signing our petition to Keep Killer Robots Fiction.
Matthew Taylor is an intern at Mines Action Canada and is a Master of the Arts Candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University specializing in Intelligence and National Security.