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The SGI together with 14 other faith-based organizations submitted the following statement to the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in New York on October 16, 2018. It calls on States to address disarmament as a moral and ethical imperative, highlighting the issues of nuclear weapons and lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS).
As people of faith, we advocate for the right of all people to live in security and dignity; we seek to heed the commands of conscience and the call to justice; we are united in our determination to protect the vulnerable and to exercise the stewardship that will safeguard Earth for present and future generations.
Article 26 of the United Nations Charter envisages the “establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.” However, in the decades since the adoption of the Charter, the world has committed immense stores of material, economic, technical and intellectual resources to the production and maintenance of a vast and growing array of armaments. Far from ensuring peace and security, these preparations for war and violence have locked states into the “security dilemma” of escalating mistrust and fear. They have inflamed and entrenched conflicts throughout the world, bringing unimaginable suffering to vast numbers of people. These armaments have squandered precious resources that could be used to meet human needs, hampered human development and human rights, and undermined the cause of human security. They have not made the world safer.
We share the concern expressed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in the UN’s new disarmament agenda “Securing Our Common Future,” that the world today stands on the “brink of a new cold war.” We fully support the Secretary-General’s call to tackle this new reality through disarmament to save humanity, disarmament that saves lives and disarmament for future generations.
To its enduring credit, the UN has proven itself as a forum for building new norms and treaties in arms control and disarmament. Recent examples include the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In furthering the disarmament agenda, it has also established the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), which is examining the use of unmanned and increasingly autonomous weapons systems. Such processes demand sustained international commitment. They have shed light on the need to improve compliance, capacity and transparency throughout the chain by which arms are designed and manufactured to where they are put to use. Multilateral forums are essential because new technologies must not be allowed to escape ethical and legal restraints under a collective commitment to the rule of law.
LAWS can select and engage individual targets without meaningful human control. Such weapons are unlikely to be able to adhere to International Humanitarian Law as it is unlikely that they will be able to properly distinguish between civilians and combatants, or to make a proportionality assessment. While the deployment of LAWS might result in an asymmetric lowering of military casualties, it is likely to also lower the threshold for the use of force and could increase civilian harm. These weapons could lead to accidental and rapid escalation of conflict as fully autonomous weapons react and interact with each other at speeds beyond human control.
As people of faith, we share common concerns about fundamental moral and ethical questions that LAWS raise regarding the right to life, the principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the threat of a new international arms race. A machine should never be allowed to make the decisions of life and death. These concerns have led to movements urging the start of international negotiations on a legally-binding instrument prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems.
Nuclear weapons manifest the dire results of new lethal technologies that have been allowed to escape the dictates of public conscience. The continued maintenance, modernization and proliferation of nuclear weapons systems represent the nadir of humanity’s self-destructive impulses and a deplorable diversion of resources from the imperatives of sustainable human development. Nuclear weapons profoundly violate all these values and commitments. We can never accept a conception of security that privileges the concerns of any state or nation over the good of the human and planetary whole. The horrific destructiveness of nuclear weapons makes their abolition the only path to authentic human security. In July of last year, in an important step toward a world free from nuclear weapons, the TPNW was adopted by 122 governments. We strongly urge all States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the TPNW.
Therefore, as people of faith, we urge the General Assembly to: