Statement by Ambassador Günter Sautter at the UN Security Council VTC Arria meeting on The Impact of Emerging Technologies on International Peace and Security, May 17

17.05.2021 - Speech

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Thanks a lot for scheduling this event, which is important and a great opportunity to discuss a matter that is urgent to all of us.

Technological progress can help us, for example in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, we have to understand risks emanating from misuse. We have been particularly concerned by cyber-attacks on public institutions and health facilities during recent years and during the pandemic. We must ensure compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, by both state and non-state actors.

Let me stress a few short points, firstly sanctions and non-proliferation. The rigorous implementation of international non-proliferation regimes as well as UN sanctions and embargos can be advanced by analysis and surveillance tools supported by new technologies. Challenges to these UNSC-mandated regimes are caused, inter alia, by crypto-currencies, 3-D-printing, polymer-weapons and the transfer of malware. Export control regimes need to tackle these challenges. These challenges arise both when it comes to the proliferation of WMD to non-state actors in the context of UNSCR 1540 and in country-specific sanctions regimes and arms embargos.

My second point is on peacekeeping and protection of civilians. The security of UN peacekeepers needs to be further strengthened by making full use of modern technologies. Especially Peacekeeping Missions with Military Observers would benefit tremendously if the full range of modern technologies could be used for mandate implementation. We hope that the Secretariat’s Peacekeeping Technology Strategy and its implementation will contribute to reaching a better understanding with host nations. The use of new technologies can also assist in the fulfilment of protection of civilians mandates. The current UN pilot project “Radio Mining” in MINUSMA (co-financed by Germany and the Netherlands) can serve as a good example. It improves the mission’s situational awareness by analyzing radio broadcasts. New technologies can also contribute to supporting accountability and to minimizing harm to civilians in armed conflict.

My third point is on Counterterrorism. New and emerging technologies expand the toolbox of counter-terrorism instruments in terms of analysis and surveillance. Such a new “tool-box” and the implementation of measures it provides must never lead to the violation of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Fourthly, we have to closely monitor developments of new weapons systems and their potential implications for future conflicts and warfare. German Foreign Minister Maas has provided the international community with a platform to discuss these crucial topics with the International Conference Series “Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control”. One concrete result of the first conference in March 2019 was the establishment of the Missile Dialogue Initiative (MDI) which has since developed into a very active and innovative framework.

Let me also mention lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). Such systems pose serious ethical and legal challenges that we need to fully understand. They must be addressed as the technology advances. We welcome that in the framework of the CCW (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) we have been able to agree on guiding principles for such systems, but we need to continue the debate about how to retain the pivotal element of human control and work towards finishing the goal we have set for ourselves at the CCW: agreeing on a normative and operational framework based on those guiding principles.

In closing, I would like to stress three short points. Horizontal and cross-cutting issues do indeed belong on the agenda of the Security Council. Germany promoted this during our time in the UNSC. We need to enhance dialogue and cooperation on new and emerging technologies. We need to use other UN fora to maximize opportunities for all states to benefit from the progress offered by technological developments in the fields of artificial intelligence, biotechnology, material sciences, robotics. We don’t necessarily need a new set of rules for each and every new technology. International law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, is fully applicable to the use of new and emerging technologies, whether we are talking about the deployment and use of cyber means in situations of armed conflict or about their use in new weapons systems. In some areas, e.g. with respect to LAWS, these established rules need to be spelled out specifically to the new technologies; and still other areas might need new international rules and regulations to create the arms control architecture of the future and to avoid destabilization.


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