Vienna Conference Ended with Call for Regulation of Autonomous Weapons Systems

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: May 6, 2024; 00:12 ♦ (Vindobona)

The call for stricter rules for autonomous weapons systems is growing louder, especially after the first international conference on this topic, which took place in Vienna from April 29 to 30, 2024. Alexander Schallenberg, the Austrian Foreign Minister, emphasized the urgency of establishing clear international rules for the use of autonomous weapons.

In Vienna, more than 900 representatives from 142 countries gathered for an international conference on Autonomous Weapon Systems (AWS) in the Hofburg palace. / Picture: © BMEIA Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres / Michael Gruber / Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

From April 29 to 30, 2024, more than 900 representatives from 142 countries gathered in Vienna for a groundbreaking international conference on Autonomous Weapon Systems (AWS). Under the title "Humanity at the Crossroads: Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Challenge of Regulation", they discussed the increasing autonomy of weapons through the use of artificial intelligence and the urgent need for international regulation.

The opening speech was given by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who emphasized the urgency of the topic and compared it to the "Oppenheimer moment" of our generation. The participants, including representatives from governments, international organizations, industry, and civil society, discussed ethical, international law, and security policy issues related to the use of AI in armed conflicts.

A central concern of the conference was to prevent life and death decisions from being made by machines. Schallenberg emphasized the importance of this debate given the current use of autonomous weapons systems in conflicts worldwide.

Austria is playing a pioneering role here and is actively campaigning for the international regulation of AWS. The country coordinated the first UN resolution on this topic back in 2023 and emphasized the urgency of regulations.

The conference ended with a clear appeal to the international community to work resolutely on regulation for autonomous weapons systems to protect humanity from the dangers of an uncontrolled arms race. It remains to be seen what concrete steps will follow from these discussions and resolutions.

Schallenberg concerned

In an interview with the newspaper "DerStandard", Schallenberg expressed his concern about the growing proliferation of autonomous weapons and emphasized the need to enact regulations to hold people accountable for their use. He compared the impact of this new technology to the "Oppenheimer moment" of our generation, pointing out the moral and security issues involved in the use of AI in armed conflict.

Schallenberg emphasized the ethical concerns regarding the life and death decisions that could be made by autonomous weapons systems. He warned that autonomous weapons represent the biggest revolution on the battlefield since the invention of gunpowder and emphasized the potential dangers associated with their proliferation.

The conference in Vienna aimed to build momentum for stricter rules and revitalize stalled talks at the United Nations. Schallenberg pointed out that a critical mass of states and organizations is needed to exert pressure and create a norm for dealing with autonomous weapons systems.

Concerning accountability for the use of autonomous weapons, Schallenberg emphasized the difficulties arising from the error-prone nature of AI. He emphasized the need for clear and binding international rules to be able to hold those responsible accountable in the event of malfunctions or errors.

Schallenberg also commented on current geopolitical developments, such as the conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as Russia's attempts to exert influence in Europe. He emphasized the need for strategic patience and a realistic view of the global challenges we face.

Concerning domestic policy, Schallenberg pointed out that he had no ambitions to become an EU Commissioner and that the likelihood of an FPÖ member taking up this position was zero.

Austrian MFA