Neuron drone. Image: Dassault
EU to call for Europe-wide armaments, including autonomous weapons systems
So far, we owe European unification, among other things, the freedom to travel without having to exchange money for a Mediterranean vacation. But it did not stop there: combat robots could also become a European branded product. The EU Parliament, Council and Commission have agreed to call for so-called lethal autonomous weapon systems, i.e. lethal military robots. These could be autonomously operating combat drones or armored combat machines that combine firepower with artificial intelligence and act autonomously.
For the development and construction of new weapons, the EU will provide a total of 500 million euros in 2019 and 2020. This is the result of the negotiations on the key points for a European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). From 2021 to 2027, a further 13 billion euros are to be made available.
Requiring lethal autonomous weapons systems is not uncontroversial even in Europe. The EU Parliament was against it, but finally gave in. As euobserver reports, citing participants in the talks, there was indeed a wording proposal on the table, according to which weapons of mass destruction, cluster munitions, anti-personnel mines and fully autonomous weapon systems are not required. However, at the urging of the European Council, which represents the governments, this has not been taken up.
Now it is said that projects whose final products violate international law ("prohibited by international law"). In addition, the Council offered to introduce a so-called "ban on autonomous weapons systems" "Reason for request" that the allocation of funds should be subject to a "the development of international law" should be respected. This could mean that autonomous weapon systems were no longer demanded as soon as a corresponding international prohibition was. However, a recital is considered less effective than a separate article in the key points, according to the euobserver.
Negotiations on the prohibition of autonomous weapon systems are already underway. At a meeting at the United Nations in April, the consensus emerged that life-and-death decisions must be made by people and not delegated to machines. Critics seek a complete ban within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). There are precedents: for example, incendiary weapons have been banned internationally since 1983 and blinding laser weapons since 1998.
However, it remains to be seen what exactly is to be banned, how further negotiations will proceed and whether important countries such as the USA and Russia can eventually be won over to the idea. France and Germany have proposed to first adopt a political declaration, which would be legally non-binding. Critics, however, see this as a violation of what the CDU, CSU and SPD had just agreed in their coalition agreement: "We reject autonomous weapons systems that are beyond the control of humans. We want to respect them worldwide."
Parliamentary will overturned
The campaign to stop killer robots was also pleased about the EU agreement to demand lethal autonomous weapon systems for the time being. This is "cursory and ill-considered", she tweeted, calling on the European Council to reconsider its decision: "He should seriously consider whether the EU wants to prevent or require the development of fully autonomous weapon systems."
"What has been decided there, makes me Fangless", commented also MEP Sabine Losing (Left Party). She refers to the resolution agreed upon by conservatives, social democrats, liberals, the Greens and the Left in 2014. Accordingly "the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons, which can be used for military attacks without human intervention", be banned. "That the conservative negotiator of the EP now falls behind this resolution, kicks the negotiating mandate of the EP with pigeons, and now supports such a deadly deal, is irresponsible", criticized Losing.
Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer called it "shameful and irresponsible that parliament and council could not even uphold basic norms and values like not investing in prohibited and inhumane weapons like cluster munitions, incendiary weapons or autonomous weapons". His Austrian party colleague, Michel Reimon, said the arms industry would "will surely thank the conservatives in the next election campaign".
USA pushes for AI
But it is not only the domestic arms industry that is satisfied. Politicians and militaries in Europe are finally realizing the importance of artificial intelligence for the military, was praised on the US portal Defense One. The French government under Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to spend $1.85 billion over five years on research and development of artificial intelligence, including the creation of an agency similar to DARPA. DARPA is responsible for military research projects in the USA.
The U.S. Sees European Research as Contributing to NATO Rust spending and Demanding More, the Defense One authors note with concern that Rust manager Wendy R. Anderson and Jim Townsend, an ex-Pentagon staffer, that while German industry is demanding artificial intelligence: "But compared with the other NATO allies, such commercial research and development is less likely to find its way into the government and defense sectors."
The authors pin their hopes on supranational organizations: "NATO and EU can play an important role in helping allies understand the role of artificial intelligence and how to use it. Both institutions can also be customers." NATO’s European allies could not wait because otherwise a gap would open with the U.S. military, they warn.
The fact that NATO has been preparing for autonomous weapon systems for a long time has already been described by Constanze Kurz in the FAZ. However, it reports that former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen explicitly denies that the alliance is already planning attacks with lethal autonomous weapon systems. Die NATO musse sich aber darauf einstellen, sich gegen solche Systeme verteidigen zu mussen.
Strategic autonomy for Europe
However, as much as U.S. strategists have buried EU spending on artificial intelligence – it is justified as a contribution to the "Strategischen Autonomie" Europas. Because the EU development program for the defense industry is part of what the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP) recently called the "stille Revolution in Europas Verteidigungspolitik" nannte: die Einrichtung eines Europaischen Verteidigungsfonds (EVF). Dieser bekomme aktuell "little attention", wundert sich die SWP: "Its creation is highly political, as it is the first time the European Commission has become active in defense policy and industry."
The European Defense Fund is intended to improve cooperation in the European defense industry. Only projects in which at least three companies from three member states cooperate are required to be funded. In this way, the EU wants to demand the next generation of drones, ships and helicopters. Brussels to bear 20 percent of the costs. However, the SWP still sees problems. It remains to be seen, "Whether a 20 percent subsidy is enough to make a project profitable". In addition, the budgeted funds are far from certain: "This is an ambitious goal, especially in view of Brexit, which will mean the loss of a contributor."
In principle, however, the SWP believes the EU is on the right track. The EU is also celebrating the compromise reached on the EU’s defense development program. So said the Bulgarian Minister of Defense Krasimir Karakachanov:
This agreement allows the European Union to finance for the first time a program for defense capabilities. This new step in our security and defense cooperation reflects how important it is in today’s world for Europeans to do more for their own security.
The Bulgarian EU Presidency had reached an agreement with the EU Parliament, which was signed on 29 February. The strategy will be presented to the ambassadors of the member states for approval before it goes to the EU Parliament and the European Council for final approval. For the European Parliament, the French MEP Francoise Grossetete (Republicans/EPP) had negotiated the agreement. She found afterwards:
The pan-European defense industry, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, will benefit from this program, which will strengthen our strategic autonomy. Excellence and innovation will be the main driving forces.
Elzbieta Bienkowska, the Polish EU Commissioner for Industry, also praised the agreement as a strengthening of Europe’s strategic autonomy, while Sabine Losing, a member of the Left Party, explained that the EU’s EDIDP program is nothing more than a massive subsidy program for European research companies. "Now to demand killer robots with EU taxpayers’ money finally puts the crown on the whole thing."