To: Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

On 1 November 2023, the UN General Assembly’s First Committee voted for the first ever UN resolution on autonomous weapons systems, with 164 states in favour. Adopted by the General Assembly, the resolution stresses that the international community must urgently address the challenges and concerns these systems raise. We thank the UK government for voting in favour of the resolution.

As members of the UK Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, we are writing to urge the government to take the opportunity provided by the Resolution’s request that the UN Secretary-General prepare a report of states’ views on this matter to support the negotiation of a legally binding instrument on autonomous weapons systems. The call for a legally binding instrument is now supported by over 115 states, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN Secretary-General. After 10 years of multilateral discussions, and with technology and its application in conflict advancing, the start of negotiations is needed now to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force, and to reject the automation of killing. 

We are deeply concerned by – and strongly disagree with – recent statements by the government that new international law in this area would be against the UK’s defence interests. The clarification and progressive development of international law must be the tool this country uses to shape the behaviour of the international community in favour of peace, security, and the protection of civilians. It is therefore critical that the UK supports a new legally binding treaty on autonomous weapons systems, which will be important in protecting both civilians and UK military personnel from hazards posed by these weapons.

The UK government has contributed constructively to international discussions on the elements that can contribute to ensuring meaningful human control over weapons systems and the use of force. For us, the common ground generated from these discussions is an important basis for developing robust legal rules. We therefore encourage the government, in its submission of views to the UN Secretary-General, to describe what it considers to be the key elements of the positive obligations required to ensure that autonomous weapons systems are used in accordance with legal and ethical norms. These include the need to understand the capabilities and limitations of autonomous weapons systems, and to place controls and limits on their use.

We welcome the UK government’s participation at the recent ‘Humanity at the Crossroads’ conference on autonomous weapons systems in Vienna. We strongly encourage the government to accept the invitation to align itself with the key points of central importance for future prohibitions and regulations in the conference’s Chair’s Summary. This will be submitted by the Austrian government to the UN Secretary-General for his report. These points recognise important areas of common ground and crucial ethical issues. The Chair’s Summary also contains a commitment to work with urgency, in partnership amongst states and other stakeholders, to move forward on this issue. In the current, polarised, international environment we urge the government to join these efforts and work towards an international legal treaty in an inclusive forum where progress cannot be blocked by any one state (as is currently the case in the Convention on Conventional Weapons). This is an issue where there is already much agreement on the substance of the regulations that are needed.

We thank you for your consideration of these points, and look forward to your response.

Signed, 


We would direct you to statements, letters and analysis from members of the UK Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, since 7th October 2023. We would urge you, also, to follow their deeper ongoing analysis preceding that date, in many cases, decades in the making.

This letter remains open for sign-ons; please email [email protected] to add your organisation’s name to the letter.