Civil Society Statement to UN: Emerging technologies

Tasneem Jamal Conventional Weapons, Emerging Technologies

The following is the civil society statement on emerging technologies as delivered by Project Ploughshares Program Officer Cesar Jaramillo to the UN General Assembly First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) on October 29, 2013.

Jaramillo was the lead drafter for the space security part of the statement, which also covers the use of armed drones.


Chairperson, Distinguished delegates:

Outer space

Humankind has become increasingly reliant on outer space for a wide range of social, economic and security benefits. But the continued enjoyment of these benefits is not guaranteed. It is incumbent upon the international community to ensure that the current use of outer space does not compromise the ability of present and future generations to benefit from this domain.

As the number of space users and applications has increased, so too have the threats to the long-term sustainability of outer space. But the existing legal regime for outer space activities is not sufficient to effectively address the many governance challenges that have emerged since the dawn of the space age.

We view with optimism the establishment of groups specifically tasked with examining measures and recommendations for best practices in the conduct of outer space activities. Two notable examples are the UN Group of Governmental Experts on space TCBMs [transparency and confidence-building measures], and the Working Group on the Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Proposals such as the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities also constitute welcome developments.

However, we remain concerned that a narrow focus among some in the international community on the development of such soft norms has resulted in a retreat from policy discussions and legal instruments specifically related to the need for arms control in outer space.

Skeptics argue that, given the inherently dual-use nature of space assets, defining space weapons and limiting their use is extremely difficult; as a result, they question the very need, adequacy and applicability of arms control measures in outer space. But this view is far from universal.

Several actors in the international community—including major spacefaring nations and civil society organizations—do not see the dual-use nature of space assets as an obvious impediment for developing concrete proposals under international law to regulate the eventual use of space weapons.

From nuclear capabilities to the use of drones, we are fully aware that dual-use technologies such as those seen in the space domain constitute an obvious consideration for multilateral arms control efforts. But the need for such efforts is beyond dispute.

The international community cannot and should not be content with addressing only some of the challenges facing the space domain, while turning a blind eye to others just as critical. We are greatly concerned that discussions related to space weaponization and the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) have yet to gain sufficient traction.

Efforts to address PAROS have been relegated to a diplomatic limbo. At the UN General Assembly, the annual PAROS resolution has not once been supported by the most advanced spacefaring nation in history, despite having the support of the vast majority of world states. And at the Conference on Disarmament, where PAROS is a core agenda item, substantive negotiations have been effectively deadlocked for more than 15 years.

In the past decade alone, ground-based anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) have been tested; several communications satellites have been deliberately jammed; missile defense systems have been used as ASATs; and precursor technologies that would allow space-to-space offensive capabilities have been developed. To be sure, the ability to use missile defense systems as anti-satellite weapons is not dormant, potential, or eventual. It is an actual and proven capability.

We believe it is in the interest of international security and the sustainability of the space domain if all states pledge, at a minimum:

Not to use any space- or ground-based capabilities to deliberately damage or destroy space assets.

Such a pledge—which should be codified multilaterally—would not require a precise definition of space weapon, nor would it disregard the oft-cited need for effective verification of compliance. The primary focus would be on protecting the physical and operational integrity of space assets, as opposed to attempting to define the weapons that might harm them. As well, existing technical means would make the destruction of space assets without attribution virtually impossible.

Distinguished delegates,

Other emerging technologies whose use has inescapable ethical and security implications pose similarly complex governance challenges.


Drones and other remotely-operated robotic systems

According to the 2010 report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, more than 40 countries now have drone technology.

Despite mounting public pressure, states continue to refuse to provide factual information about who has been targeted, under which policies, and with what outcome—including whether innocent civilians have been “collaterally” killed or injured. The 2012 report of the Special Rapporteur reiterated the recommendation that governments track civilian casualties in disaggregated data so as to identify the number of casualties resulting from the use of drone attacks.

With the use of drones, militaries circumvent the laws of war by not actually entering into war. Further, a rise in the use of unmanned systems in remote or inaccessible conflict areas reduces the opportunity to see the impact of those weapons, which is urgently needed to hold those who use them accountable for their actions.

A number of questions arise from the use of drone technology, including who may be targeted and the legal implications for those who conduct the targeting. These questions must be referenced to bodies of law that place significant limits on targeting operations, including human rights law, domestic law, the UN Charter, the law of neutrality, and principles of non-intervention and distinction.

Military drone manufacturers are also looking to expand their markets with the use of drones for domestic surveillance, resulting in a dramatic expansion of the surveillance state. This has colossal implications for privacy laws and for surveillance and targeting accountability, given the diffuse legal responsibility resulting from this practice.

We call upon states to stop using, deploying, and developing armed drones, to clarify the procedures for determining how their use of drones is in compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights, and to publish disaggregated data on casualties of drone attacks. In addition, we urge governments to take steps to control the trade and proliferation of drones.


The threats to international security and stability posed by emerging technologies such as space weapons and drones demand that parallel diplomatic processes be pursued to address them. The consequences of inaction could be dire.

Thank you.

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