Bangladesh’s Plea For Humanity: Charting A Course Amidst Intersection Of AI And Global Security – OpEd


Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, issued a heartfelt plea to the international community, urging them to reject the development of any new weaponry, particularly autonomous weapons, in the name of safeguarding humanity. His impassioned call came amidst his attendance at the ‘Humanity at the Crossroads: Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Challenge of Regulation’ conference in Vienna.

Mahmud engaged in a thought-provoking panel discussion alongside distinguished counterparts including H.E. Alexander Schallenberg of Austria, H.E. Arnoldo André Tinoco of Costa Rica, H.E. Eivind Vad Petersson of Norway, and H.E. Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs hosted the global summit titled “Humanity at the Crossroads: Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Challenge of Regulation” on April 29-30, 2024, at the historic Hofburg Palace in Vienna. The increasing autonomy of weaponry through the integration of artificial intelligence is poised to revolutionize the landscape of armed conflicts. Autonomous weapons systems (AWS) pose profound inquiries across legal, ethical, humanitarian, and security domains.

At this critical juncture, humanity must unite to confront the pivotal task of regulating these weapons. In the inaugural UN General Assembly resolution addressing lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2023, a vast majority of nations emphasized the pressing necessity for the global community to grapple with the challenges and apprehensions surrounding autonomous weaponry. Therefore, Austria convenes this conference with the aim of fostering further discourse toward international regulation of AWS. All nations, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), international and regional organizations, academic institutions, think tanks, industry representatives, and civil society are cordially invited to participate and engage in discussions concerning the core issues and diverse challenges associated with AWS and their global regulation.

The Conference opened on April 29, 2024, commencing with a high-level segment that featured statements from the host country and other distinguished guests. Two moderated high-level panels followed, delving into the necessity of regulating autonomous weapons systems (AWS) and the partnerships required to advance this objective. Subsequently, four expert panels convened to scrutinize AWS from various perspectives and to address the challenges associated with their regulation. The high-level panels, themed the need for regulation – action – partnerships, featured invited guests discussing the imperative of AWS regulation and the collaborative efforts required to achieve it.

Panel discussions covered a range of topics

  •  Panel One explored emerging technologies in the field of AWS, their implications for international security, and the specific challenges they pose from humanitarian, legal, ethical, security, and technological standpoints.
  •  Panel Two delved into the role of human control and accountability in the use of AWS, addressing issues of decision-making, moral judgment, accountability under international law, and the design and development of AWS.
  •  Panel Three examined the ethical and human rights considerations related to AWS, including the processing of individuals as data, targeting, and the risks associated with bias in data sets and algorithms.
  •  Panel Four focused on the broader societal implications of dealing with AWS, including the necessity for action, lessons from autonomy and AI in civil applications, and the risks of an autonomy arms race and proliferation to non-state actors and terrorists.

Additionally, on April 28, 2024, the International Campaign to Stop Killer Robots organized the civil society forum “Action at the Crossroads: Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Challenge of Regulation” at Palais Wertheim. This forum, open to the general public, was independent of the Austrian MFA conference, requiring separate registration.

Notably, between 2014–18 and 2019–23, the import of significant arms by European states surged by a staggering 94 percent, contrasting with a slight global decrease in international arms transfers, which amounted to 3.3 percent. Despite an overall decline in arms transfers to other regions, countries in Asia and Oceania as well as the Middle East continued to acquire arms at significantly higher rates compared to their European counterparts.

Nine out of the ten largest arms importers during 2019–23, including top-ranked India, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, hailed from Asia and Oceania or the Middle East. Ukraine emerged as the fourth largest global arms importer following substantial transfers from over 30 states during 2022–23. On the export front, the United States, the foremost arms supplier globally, witnessed a notable uptick of 17 percent in arms exports from 2014–18 to 2019–23.

Conversely, Russia experienced a drastic decline of over half (-53 percent) in its arms exports during the same period. Meanwhile, France saw a robust growth of 47 percent in its arms exports, surpassing Russia to claim the position of the world’s second largest arms supplier. This marks the need to put a break on the growing nature of arming different regions.

Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, the Foreign Minister, emphasized the paramount importance of harnessing the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for benevolent endeavors rather than its misappropriation in the domain of warfare. He articulated a compelling vision wherein AI serves as a force for good, driving progress in critical sectors like agriculture, healthcare, space exploration, and climate change mitigation. Dr. Mahmud’s impassioned plea resonated with the audience as he underscored the profound impact AI could have in addressing some of humanity’s most pressing challenges.

In his address, Dr. Mahmud posed a poignant question that resonated deeply with the attendees: What would be the consequences if non-state actors and terrorist organizations were to obtain access to AI-driven autonomous weapons? This query served as a sobering reminder of the potential dangers posed by unchecked advancements in military technology and the urgent need for robust regulations to mitigate such risks.

At the heart of Dr. Mahmud’s message lay a fervent call for the preservation of human control over the use of force. He stressed the critical necessity of establishing internationally binding legal frameworks to prevent machines from wielding lethal capabilities and making life-and-death decisions. His advocacy for the establishment of global standards to effectively regulate autonomous weapons echoed throughout the conference halls, compelling delegates to confront the ethical and moral implications of weaponizing AI. Drawing attention to the volatile situation in Gaza, Dr. Mahmud issued a stark warning against the escalation of conflicts and tensions on new fronts. His words served as a timely reminder of the human cost of armed conflicts and the urgent need for concerted efforts to promote peace and stability in conflict-affected regions.

The conference, meticulously organized by the Ministry of European and International Affairs of Austria, served as a pivotal platform for global dialogue and collaboration. With over 800 delegates hailing from more than 120 nations, alongside representatives from UN bodies, human rights organizations, and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), the event underscored the pressing global significance of the issue at hand. The diverse array of participants reflected a shared commitment to addressing the challenges posed by autonomous weapons systems and advancing collective efforts towards a safer and more secure world.

Dr. Mahmud’s impassioned plea for responsible AI governance and the regulation of autonomous weapons resonated profoundly with the conference attendees. As the world grapples with the ethical and security implications of AI-driven technologies, his message serves as a clarion call for global cooperation and concerted action to ensure that the benefits of AI are harnessed for the betterment of humanity, rather than its detriment.

Syed Raiyan Amir

Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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