April 11, 2016

CNAS Press Note: Autonomous Weapons at the United Nations

By Kelley Sayler, and Paul Scharre

Washington, April 11 – Increasingly, autonomous robots are being deployed on the ground and in the sea and air. It is not inconceivable that fully autonomous weapon systems could one day be used to execute lethal attacks. In order to explore the challenges associated with this emerging security environment, the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will convene the third Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) from April 11 to 15. Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Senior Fellow Paul Scharre and CNAS Associate Fellow Kelley Sayler of the Ethical Autonomy Project are in attendance and have written a new Press Note, “Autonomous Weapons at the U.N.” 


The full Press Note is below:

This week, experts from over 90 states and non-governmental organizations are meeting to discuss the development and use of autonomous weapons. A key objective of these meetings will be to establish a working definition of LAWS – which are broadly understood to include those systems that select and engage targets without asking for human permission – and to identify the key characteristics that differentiate LAWS from other systems.

Although, for the most part, fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, autonomy in weapon systems is steadily increasing, raising new legal, moral, ethical, policy, and strategic challenges. In order to protect both strategic stability and humanitarian considerations, it will be critical for states to further develop their thinking on these issues at this years’ meeting.

Scharre and Sayler are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409.


  • Kelley Sayler

    Former Fellow, Defense Strategies and Assessments Program

    Kelley Sayler is a former Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where she worked with the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program and the Future of Warfa...

  • Paul Scharre

    Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. His firs...