March 26, 2024

CNAS Releases New Report Examining Inadvertent U.S.-China Escalation Risks from Lethal Autonomous Weapons Deployments in the Indo-Pacific 

Washington, March 26, 2024 – Today, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, Autonomy and International Stability: Confidence-Building Measures for Uncrewed Systems in the Indo-Pacific by Tom Shugart, Adjunct Senior Fellow for the Defense Program.

In an era where rivalry between U.S.-China interactions in the Indo-Pacific remains a potential flashpoint for conflict, the new report examines a growing area of concern: deployment of air and maritime uncrewed platforms in the Indo-Pacific, including those with lethal autonomous weapons.

Shugart articulates a vision for how confidence-building measures (CBMs) for autonomous weapons can have a mutually beneficial effect for the international community. The report puts forth a set of realistic solutions for international policymakers to consider. Report recommendations include a focus on building on existing CBM agreements, pre-defining potential exclusion zones for armed uncrewed systems, agreeing not to deploy nuclear weapons on uncrewed systems, and creating mechanisms to indicate loss of control of uncrewed systems.

The report argues that in the absence of a U.S.-China agreement on uncrewed systems, unilateral adoption of CBM principles for autonomous weapons deployments in the Indo-Pacific by the United States could be beneficial.

Considering the increasing integration of large-scale uncrewed systems into the world’s militaries, the report offers ways to manage ongoing tensions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. During previous periods of military innovation and international tension, even adversarial nations agreed on set rules that standardized and managed interactions, increased communications, and mitigated the negative impacts of novel weapons and platforms. Historical insights on this issue are just as important now as ever.

Shugart concludes with recommendations for U.S. and international policymakers to prevent unintended great power escalation due to interactions with and between these systems.

Recommendations include

  • closing gaps for uncrewed platforms in existing CBM agreements;
  • providing working frequencies for uncrewed aircraft and vessels to allow for communication with crewed platforms, as feasible;
  • avoiding blinding uncrewed platforms’ navigation and collision-avoidance sensors, and control and communication systems;
  • agreeing that uncrewed aircraft should operate in a manner that minimizes hazards to other aircraft;
  • agreeing that neither side will use uncrewed ships, aircraft, or undersea vessels to carry, deploy, or employ nuclear weapons; and
  • agreeing that either or both sides, at any time, may declare an exemption of uncrewed systems from these measures for as long as required—except for measures related to nuclear weapons.  

For more information or to schedule an interview with Tom Shugart, please contact Alexa Whaley at

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Autonomy and International Stability

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