We’re close to banning nuclear weapons – killer robots must be next



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International flags fly at United Nations headquarters, New York City.
Osugi/shutterstock

Toby Walsh, Data61

While much of the world’s attention was focused last week on the G20 meeting in Hamburg, and Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, a historic decision took place at the United Nations (UN) in New York.

On Friday, 122 countries voted in favour of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”.

Nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction without a treaty banning them, despite the fact that they are potentially the most
potent of all weapons. Biological weapons were banned in 1975 and
chemical weapons in 1992.

This new treaty sets the international norm that nuclear weapons are no longer morally acceptable. This is the first step along the road to their eventual elimination from our planet, although the issue of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions remains unresolved.

Earlier this year, thousands of scientists including 30 Nobel Prize winners signed an open letter calling for nuclear weapons to be banned. I was one of the signees, and am pleased to see an outcome linked to this call so swiftly and resolutely answered.

More broadly, the nuclear weapon treaty offers hope for formal negotiations about lethal autonomous weapons (otherwise known as killer robots) due to start in the UN in November. Nineteen countries have already called for a pre-emptive ban on such weapons, fearing they will be the next weapon of mass destruction that man will invent.

An arms race is underway to develop autonomous weapons, in every theatre of war. In the air, for instance, BAE Systems is prototyping their Taranis drone. On the sea, the US Navy has launched their first autonomnous ship, the Sea Hunter. And under the sea, Boeing has a working version of a 15 metre long Echo Voyager autonomous submarine.

New treaty, new hope

The nuclear weapons treaty is an important step towards delegitimising nuclear weapons, and puts strong moral pressure on the nuclear states like the US, the UK and Russia to reduce and eventually to eliminate such weapons from their arsenals. The treaty also obliges states to support victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, and to address environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons.

It has to be noted that the talks at the UN and subsequent vote on the treaty were boycotted by all the nuclear states, as well as by a number of other countries. Australia has played a leading role in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and other disarmament talks. Disappointingly Australia was one of these countries boycotting last week’s talks. In contrast, New Zealand played a leading role with their ambassador being one of the Vice-Presidents of the talks.

Whilst 122 countries voted for the treaty, one country (the Netherlands) voted against, and one (Singapore) abstained from the vote.

The treaty will open for signature by states at the United Nations in New York on September 20, 2017. It will then come into force once 50 states have signed.

Even though major states have boycotted previous disarmament treaties, this has not prevented the treaties having effect. The US, for instance, has never signed the 1999 accord on anti-personnel landmines, wishing to support South Korea’s use of such mines in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with North Korea. Nevertheless, the US follows the accord outside of the DMZ.

Given that 122 countries voted for the nuclear prohibition treaty, it is likely that 50 states will sign the treaty in short order, and that it will then come into force. And, as seen with the landmine accord, this will increase pressure on nuclear states like the US and Russia to reduce and perhaps even eliminate their nuclear stockpiles.

When the chemical weapons convention came into effect in 1993, eight countries declared stockpiles, which are now partially or completely eliminated.

Public pressure

The vote also raises hope on the issue of killer robots. Two years ago, I and thousands of my colleagues signed an open letter calling for a ban on killer robots. This pushed the issue up the agenda at the UN and helped get 123 nations to vote last December at the UN in Geneva for the commencement of formal talks.

The UN moves a little slowly at times. Nuclear disarmament is the longest sought objective of the UN, dating back to the very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly in January 1946 shortly after nuclear bombs had been used by the US for the first time. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful moment in a time when hope is in short supply.

The ConversationThe UN does move in the right direction and countries can come together and act in our common interest. Bravo.

Toby Walsh, Professor of AI at UNSW, Research Group Leader, Data61

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As an historic nuclear weapons treaty is reached, G20 leaders miss the mark on North Korea



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In North Korea’s eyes, its nuclear program is the only guarantee of regime survival.
Reuters/KCNA

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Over the weekend, more than 120 countries adopted a treaty at a UN conference that prohibits the production, stockpiling, use or threatened use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Australia was a notable absentee. So were the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons.

While the UN conference was taking a major step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, the US and its allies – notably Japan, South Korea and Australia – were hoping to use the G20 summit in Hamburg to focus attention on the danger North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose.

However, the declaration issued at the end of the G20 does not even mention the issue. We can now expect a UN Security Council resolution that condemns North Korea’s latest missile test and applies slightly tougher sanctions.

The glaring contradiction between the boycott of the nuclear ban negotiations and the preoccupation with the North Korean nuclear threat does not seem to have dawned on the US and its allies.

Kim’s misguided provocation and Trump’s futile bluster

In North Korea’s eyes, its nuclear program is the only guarantee of regime survival.

North Korea’s apparently successful intercontinental ballistic missile test last week is widely seen, and portrayed by the regime itself, as part of a relentless drive to develop a reliable long-range nuclear weapon capable of striking the US.

The US responded to the latest test by declaring the policy of “strategic patience” is now over. In a speech delivered in Poland prior to the G20, US President Donald Trump warned he is considering “some pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s “very, very bad behaviour”.

Donald Trump’s pre-G20 speech in Warsaw.

Yet America’s options are limited. In the first five months of his presidency, Trump’s strategy was to cajole China into taking a more confrontational stance with North Korea. But there are limits to what China is able or prepared to do.

Trump then intimated the use of tougher sanctions against North Korea, possible financial or trade sanctions against China for failing to do more, and even the direct use of military force.

However, resorting to these coercive tools is unlikely to have the desired result. History tells us harsh economic sanctions are often counter-productive. They impoverish economies, strengthen dictatorships, and drive dissent underground.

As for a military strike on North Korea, it could well lead the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to launch a devastating strike against America’s allies, – notably Japan and South Korea. This might include the use of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. Such a turn of events may even drag China into the conflict.

More promising is the policy of strategic caution advocated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, which they reiterated in their separate meetings with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Both Russia and China argue North Korea can be persuaded to halt nuclear and missile tests if, in return, the US and South Korea suspend their joint military exercises. This would be a prelude to the resumption of talks involving the US and North Korea that could lead to undertakings for all sides to refrain from the use of force or other aggressive measures.

This more pragmatic stance is close to the position of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who argued in Hamburg that the focus should be kept on further sanctions and dialogue.

Why the treaty?

Nothing said at the G20 summit will resolve the North Korean crisis, for it is but a symptom of a deeper ailment.

The US and Russia, which between them account for 92% of the world’s nuclear weapons, are clearly intent on preserving and modernising their nuclear arsenals. They and other nuclear-armed countries have steadfastly resisted repeated calls for nuclear disarmament – even though Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty requires them to do just that.

The nuclear weapons treaty that has just emerged is a direct response to the morally and legally culpable inaction of the nuclear-armed countries – something the G20 summit did not and could not do.

Put simply, the treaty is a comprehensive effort to bring the rule of law to bear on all aspects of the nuclear assault on the planet. It designates a nuclear-weapon-free world as “a global public good of the highest order”, on which depend:

… human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.

The treaty’s provisions are robust and thorough. In addition to prohibiting production, possession and deployment, each party to it undertakes never to test, transfer or receive from any recipient any nuclear weapons or explosive devices, and never to assist anyone or receive assistance from anyone to engage in any such activity.

Countries are further prohibited from ever allowing nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices to be stationed, installed, deployed or tested in their territory, or anywhere under their jurisdiction or control.

But there’s more to the treaty than this. It specifically acknowledges the unacceptable suffering and harm caused to the victims by nuclear weapons, as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons, in particular indigenous peoples.

The treaty also reinforces the legal obligation of relevant countries to provide appropriate remedies to the victims of nuclear testing, and effective repair of environmental damage.

Those who have been busy drafting and redrafting the treaty have taken great care to make room at a future date for those countries that have not participated in the negotiations – in particular nuclear-armed countries and their allies. A well-crafted set of procedures allows for the progressive, transparent and carefully verified dismantling of their nuclear activities.

Nothing said at the G20 summit will resolve the North Korean crisis.
Reuters/Kay Nietfield

Australia’s negative role

The dramatic events of the last week raise troubling questions for the future direction of Australian foreign policy. Why is it that Australia has been absent from the negotiations leading up to the adoption of this treaty?

More than that, why has it done all in its power to thwart the initiative?

The reasons are not hard to find. There is within Australia a firmly entrenched but dangerous mindset that America’s military might, including its nuclear arsenal, underwrites Australia’s national security.

The Australian government’s opposition to the nuclear ban treaty is the logical consequence of its subservience to US strategic objectives and priorities. It is the extension of longstanding policies that have led Australia to entanglement in protracted, costly and unwinnable wars – in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria.

It is the result of Australia’s psychological insecurity, and the tendency of governments to try to demonstrate at every opportunity that we remain America’s most faithful ally.

Yet there are other options. Australia has much to gain from actively supporting efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, and from collaborating with like-minded countries and international organisations to develop an effective long-term nuclear disarmament agenda.

Such a process would create immense possibilities for easing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region – not just in the Korean peninsula, but in China-US and China-Japan relations, and in the South China Sea.

The ConversationPublic support for such a transition is greater than many would think. The nuclear ban treaty is the beginning, not the end.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Secretary of State cites citizen media reports from Syria in criticism of attack


Gigaom

A large number of videos, photos and graphic descriptions of chemical-weapon attacks on civilians have been coming out of Syria over the past day, and it is clear they have made an impact not just on those observing the violence from afar but also on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who cited them in a statement about the attack on Monday. Said Kerry:

Last night, after speaking with foreign ministers from around the world about the gravity of this situation, I went back and I watched the videos — the videos that anybody can watch in the social media, and I watched them one more gut-wrenching time. It is really hard to express in words the the human suffering that they lay out before us.

As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing while…

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