Options for Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Five Eyes Alliance

Dan Lee is a government employee who works in Defense, and has varying levels of experience working with Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).  He can be found on Twitter @danlee961.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  Options for Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Five Eyes Alliance

Date Originally Written:  September 29, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  October 29, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of Five Eyes national defense organizations. 

Background:  The Five Eyes community consists of the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), Canada, Australia and New Zealand; its origins can be traced to the requirement to cooperate in Signals Intelligence after World War Two[1]. Arguably, the alliance is still critical today in dealing with terrorism and other threats[2].

Autonomous systems may provide the Five Eyes alliance an asymmetric advantage, or ‘offset’, to counter its strategic competitors that are on track to field larger and more technologically advanced military forces. The question of whether or not to develop and employ Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) is currently contentious due to the ethical and social considerations involved with allowing machines to choose targets and apply lethal force without human intervention[3][4][5]. Twenty-six countries are calling for a prohibition on LAWS, while three Five Eyes partners (Australia, UK and the US) as well as other nations including France, Germany, South Korea and Turkey do not support negotiating new international laws on the matter[6]. When considering options, at least two issues must also be addressed.

The first issue is defining what LAWS are; a common lexicon is required to allow Five Eyes partners to conduct an informed discussion as to whether they can come to a common policy position on the development and employment of these systems. Public understanding of autonomy is mostly derived from the media or from popular culture and this may have contributed to the hype around the topic[7][8][8]. Currently there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a fully autonomous lethal weapon system, which has in turn disrupted discussions at the United Nations (UN) on how these systems should be governed by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCWUN)[10]. The US and UK have different definitions, which makes agreement on a common position difficult even amongst like-minded nations[11][12]. This lack of lexicon is further complicated by some strategic competitors using more liberal definitions of LAWS, allowing them to support a ban while simultaneously developing weapons that do not require meaningful human control[13][14][15][16].

The second issue one of agreeing how autonomous systems might be employed within the Five Eyes alliance. For example, as a strategic offset technology, the use of autonomous systems might mitigate the relatively small size of their military forces relative to an adversary’s force[17]. Tactically, they could be deployed completely independently of humans to remove personnel from danger, as swarms to overwhelm the enemy with complexity, or as part of a human-machine team to augment human capabilities[18][19][20].

A failure of Five Eyes partners to come to a complete agreement on what is and is not permissible in developing and employing LAWS does not necessarily mean a halt to progress; indeed, this may provide the alliance with the ability for some partners to cover the capability gaps of others. If some members of the alliance choose not to develop lethal systems, it may free their resources to focus on autonomous Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) or logistics capabilities. In a Five Eyes coalition environment, these members who chose not to develop lethal systems could provide support to the LAWS-enabled forces of other partners, providing lethal autonomy to the alliance as whole, if not to individual member states.

Significance:  China and Russia may already be developing LAWS; a failure on the part of the Five Eyes alliance to actively manage this issue may put it at a relative disadvantage in the near future[21][22][23][24]. Further, dual-use civilian technologies already exist that may be adapted for military use, such as the Australian COTSbot and the Chinese Mosquito Killer Robot[25][26]. If the Five Eyes alliance does not either disrupt the development of LAWS by its competitors, or attain relative technological superiority, it may find itself starting in a position of disadvantage during future conflicts or deterrence campaigns.

Option #1:  Five Eyes nations work with the UN to define LAWS and ban their development and use; diplomatic, economic and informational measures are applied to halt or disrupt competitors’ LAWS programs. Technological offset is achieved by Five Eyes autonomous military systems development that focuses on logistics and ISR capabilities, such as Boston Dynamics’ LS3 AlphaDog and the development of driverless trucks to free soldiers from non-combat tasks[27][28][29][30].

Risk:  In the event of conflict, allied combat personnel would be more exposed to danger than the enemy as their nations had, in essence, decided to not develop a technology that could be of use in war. Five Eyes militaries would not be organizationally prepared to develop, train with and employ LAWS if necessitated by an existential threat. It may be too late to close the technological capability gap after the commencement of hostilities.

Gain:  The Five Eyes alliance’s legitimacy regarding human rights and the just conduct of war is maintained in the eyes of the international community. A LAWS arms race and subsequent proliferation can be avoided.

Option #2:  Five Eyes militaries actively develop LAWS to achieve superiority over their competitors.

Risk:  The Five Eyes alliance’s legitimacy may be undermined in the eyes of the international community and organizations such as The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the UN, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Public opinion in some partner nations may increasingly disapprove of LAWS development and use, which could fragment the alliance in a similar manner to the Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty[31][32].

The declared development and employment of LAWS may catalyze a resource-intensive international arms race. Partnerships between government and academia and industry may also be adversely affected[33][34].

Gain:  Five Eyes nations avoid a technological disadvantage relative to their competitors; the Chinese information campaign to outmanoeuvre Five Eyes LAWS development through the manipulation of CCWUN will be mitigated. Once LAWS development is accepted as inevitable, proliferation may be regulated through the UN.

Other Comments:  None

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Tossini, J.V. (November 14, 2017). The Five Eyes – The Intelligence Alliance of the Anglosphere. Retrieved from https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-five-eyes-the-intelligence-alliance-of-the-anglosphere/

[2] Grayson, K. Time to bring ‘Five Eyes’ in from the cold? (May 4, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/time-bring-five-eyes-cold/

[3] Lange, K. 3rd Offset Strategy 101: What It Is, What the Tech Focuses Are (March 30, 2016). Retrieved from http://www.dodlive.mil/2016/03/30/3rd-offset-strategy-101-what-it-is-what-the-tech-focuses-are/

[4] International Committee of the Red Cross. Expert Meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems Statement (November 15, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.icrc.org/en/document/expert-meeting-lethal-autonomous-weapons-systems

[5] Human Rights Watch and
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. Fully Autonomous Weapons: Questions and Answers. (October 2013). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/10.2013_killer_robots_qa.pdf

[6] Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Report on Activities Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems – United Nations Geneva – 9-13 April 2018. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.stopkillerrobots.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/KRC_ReportCCWX_Apr2018_UPLOADED.pdf

[7] Scharre, P. Why You Shouldn’t Fear ‘Slaughterbots’. (December 22, 2017). Retrieved from https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/military-robots/why-you-shouldnt-fear-slaughterbots

[8] Winter, C. (November 14, 2017). ‘Killer robots’: autonomous weapons pose moral dilemma. Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/killer-robots-autonomous-weapons-pose-moral-dilemma/a-41342616

[9] Devlin, H. Killer robots will only exist if we are stupid enough to let them. (June 11, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/11/killer-robots-will-only-exist-if-we-are-stupid-enough-to-let-them

[10] Welsh, S. Regulating autonomous weapons. (November 16, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/regulating-autonomous-weapons/

[11] United States Department of Defense. Directive Number 3000.09. (November 21, 2012). Retrieved from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=726163

[12] Lords AI committee: UK definitions of autonomous weapons hinder international agreement. (April 17, 2018). Retrieved from http://www.article36.org/autonomous-weapons/lords-ai-report/

[13] Group of Governmental Experts of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects – Geneva, 9–13 April 2018 (first week) Item 6 of the provisional agenda – Other matters. (11 April 2018). Retrieved from https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/E42AE83BDB3525D0C125826C0040B262/$file/CCW_GGE.1_2018_WP.7.pdf

[14] Welsh, S. China’s shock call for ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems. (April 16, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.janes.com/article/79311/china-s-shock-call-for-ban-on-lethal-autonomous-weapon-systems

[15] Mohanty, B. Lethal Autonomous Dragon: China’s approach to artificial intelligence weapons. (Nov 15 2017). Retrieved from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/lethal-autonomous-weapons-dragon-china-approach-artificial-intelligence/

[16] Kania, E.B. China’s Strategic Ambiguity and Shifting Approach to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. (April 17, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.lawfareblog.com/chinas-strategic-ambiguity-and-shifting-approach-lethal-autonomous-weapons-systems

[17] Tomes, R. Why the Cold War Offset Strategy was all about Deterrence and Stealth. (January 14, 2015) Retrieved from https://warontherocks.com/2015/01/why-the-cold-war-offset-strategy-was-all-about-deterrence-and-stealth/

[18] Lockie, A. The Air Force just demonstrated an autonomous F-16 that can fly and take out a target all by itself. (April 12, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/f-16-drone-have-raider-ii-loyal-wingman-f-35-lockheed-martin-2017-4?r=US&IR=T

[19] Schuety, C. & Will, L. An Air Force ‘Way of Swarm’: Using Wargaming and Artificial Intelligence to Train Drones. (September 21, 2018). Retrieved from https://warontherocks.com/2018/09/an-air-force-way-of-swarm-using-wargaming-and-artificial-intelligence-to-train-drones/

[20] Ryan, M. Human-Machine Teaming for Future Ground Forces. (2018). Retrieved from https://csbaonline.org/uploads/documents/Human_Machine_Teaming_FinalFormat.pdf

[21] Perrigo, B. Global Arms Race for Killer Robots Is Transforming the Battlefield. (Updated: April 9, 2018). Retrieved from http://time.com/5230567/killer-robots/

[22] Hutchison, H.C. Russia says it will ignore any UN ban of killer robots. (November 30, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/russia-will-ignore-un-killer-robot-ban-2017-11/?r=AU&IR=T

[23] Mizokami, K. Kalashnikov Will Make an A.I.-Powered Killer Robot – What could possibly go wrong? (July 20, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/news/a27393/kalashnikov-to-make-ai-directed-machine-guns/

[24] Atherton, K. Combat robots and cheap drones obscure the hidden triumph of Russia’s wargame. (September 25, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.c4isrnet.com/unmanned/2018/09/24/combat-robots-and-cheap-drones-obscure-the-hidden-triumph-of-russias-wargame/

[25] Platt, J.R. A Starfish-Killing, Artificially Intelligent Robot Is Set to Patrol the Great Barrier Reef Crown of thorns starfish are destroying the reef. Bots that wield poison could dampen the invasion. (January 1, 2016) Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-starfish-killing-artificially-intelligent-robot-is-set-to-patrol-the-great-barrier-reef/

[26] Skinner, T. Presenting, the Mosquito Killer Robot. (September 14, 2016). Retrieved from https://quillorcapture.com/2016/09/14/presenting-the-mosquito-killer-robot/

[27] Defence Connect. DST launches Wizard of Aus. (November 10, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/key-enablers/1514-dst-launches-wizard-of-aus

[28] Pomerleau, M. Air Force is looking for resilient autonomous systems. (February 24, 2016). Retrieved from https://defensesystems.com/articles/2016/02/24/air-force-uas-contested-environments.aspx

[29] Boston Dynamics. LS3 Legged Squad Support Systems. The AlphaDog of legged robots carries heavy loads over rough terrain. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.bostondynamics.com/ls3

[30] Evans, G. Driverless vehicles in the military – will the potential be realised? (February 2, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.army-technology.com/features/driverless-vehicles-military/

[31] Hambling, D. Why the U.S. Is Backing Killer Robots. (September 15, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a23133118/us-ai-robots-warfare/

[32] Ministry for Culture and Heritage. ANZUS treaty comes into force 29 April 1952. (April 26, 2017). Retrieved from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/anzus-comes-into-force

[33] Shalal, A. Researchers to boycott South Korean university over AI weapons work. (April 5, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tech-korea-boycott/researchers-to-boycott-south-korean-university-over-ai-weapons-work-idUSKCN1HB392

[34] Shane, S & Wakabayashi, D. ‘The Business of War’: Google Employees Protest Work for the Pentagon. (April 4, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/technology/google-letter-ceo-pentagon-project.html


Artificial Intelligence & Human-Machine Teaming Australia Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) Autonomous Weapons Systems Canada Dan Lee New Zealand Option Papers United Kingdom United States

Options for Bougainville Independence

Iain Strutt has been involved in military, police and private security in Australia for over twenty years.  He is currently completing a Bachelor of Science (Security) degree with a minor in international relations at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organisation, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  Independence options for Bougainville Island, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Date Originally Written:  March 26, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  May 4, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  While Bougainville may be a small Pacific Island and seem minor geopolitically, the author believes the outcome of the independence vote in 2019 will have regional implications.

Background:  Bougainville Island will hold a referendum on independence from PNG on June 15th, 2019.  Independence from PNG has been deliberated and defeated before[1].  Historically, Bougainville was administered first by Germany, then Britain.  After World War 2, Australia administered the territory as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of New Guinea.  With PNG independence from Australia in 1975, Bougainville became part of the new nation[2].  Bougainville was originally known as the North Solomons’, being as they were, part of the Solomon Islands.

Secessionists caused an insurrection in Bougainville in 1988 and it continued until the late 1990s.  The conflict succeeded in closing the giant Panguna copper mine in 1989, situated in the southern highlands.  Panguna was vital to the economy of PNG and Bougainville, as it has copper in abundance.  The two most prominent causes for the guerilla war on Bougainville can be traced back to the longstanding imbalance between ethnicity and financial reward.  Inadequate sharing of revenue with the traditional landowners of the copper mine has since been settled, with their involvement in future mining now a reality[3].

Following the ending of the guerilla war, agreement was reached by the secessionists and the PNG government in 2001, seeing Bougainville declared an autonomous region, governed by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).  Both the ABG and PNG signed the Bougainville Peace Agreement, known as the Arawa Accord in 2001 which has three related processes: 

  1. Autonomy
  2. Referendum
  3. Weapons disposal plan[4]

Two of the three have been accomplished, although it is not known precisely how many weapons were cached or even in existence before or after the December 2001 disposal process, so questions remain over weapons numbers[5].  Of concern is that the independence votes’ outcome hinges upon its ratification by the PNG parliament as the “final decision-making authority[6].”  The state as a person in international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter relations with the other states[7].  Bougainville satisfies all criteria despite efforts to resist the breakup by PNG.

This region has previously been of strategic interest to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) due to its resources[8].  Foreign powers attempt at influence is nothing new and it appears that the PRC is endeavoring to extend its influence past the so-called Second Island Chain.  The chain is a strategic line that stretches from Japan, to Guam, then to the “vicinity of New Guinea[9].”  Similarly, Australia has a profound strategic interest in South-East Asia, particularly PNG and the islands of the South Pacific[9].  Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) nations have fought wars and participated in peacekeeping missions in this area over the past 75 years and Bougainville lies within this region.

Financing the reopening of the Panguna mine is something that the PRC can afford, in keeping with its desire for infrastructure projects globally and commercial diplomacy[10].  To get the copper to market requires access from Panguna to Kieta port, with its adjacent airfield, on the east coast of Bougainville.  The strategic importance of Bougainville should therefore not be overlooked as the island is in a sound position to monitor the western Pacific.


Significance:  The recent visit to Australia by PRC Premier Li Keqinang has led to the increased warming of the bilateral relationship between the PRC and Australia.  Although Australia is still a firm ANZUS partner, U.S. foreign policy is now inward looking, prompting a refocus by the ANZUS partners.  Australian foreign policy can now act as a positive influence over the PRC in this region, with a “non-provocative, pragmatic diplomatic stance[11].”

Option #1:  Bougainville achieves independence in 2019 and ANZUS can assume defense duties in rotation on the island as there is no allowance for a defense force in the Bougainville constitution.

Risk:  Low.  This is the preferred outcome due to the minimal risk to regional stability.  It would give greater influence in the area to ANZUS nations.  The PNG military can benefit from cross training in keeping with Australia’s regional outlook.

Gain:  Positive.  Economic benefit for Bougainville.  The Panguna mine would reopen without PNG involvement with income provided to the local landowners.

Option #2:  The Bougainville referendum result is denied by the PNG government.  Bougainville declares sovereignty itself, following the examples of Bangladesh, Croatia, Georgia and Moldova (see Other Comments below).

Risk:  Moderate.  If PNG denies the result of the referendum to preserve its sovereignty over Bougainville, civil discontent is highly likely as Bougainville independence is preferred and has been over time.

Gain:  Negative.  An outcome regional partners would not want, due to the potential for violence and civil unrest.  Intervention requiring peacekeepers may occur, a situation the islanders have endured before.

Option #3:  Regardless of the result of the referendum, with closer relationships between Australia, the PRC and the ABG, a mining joint venture could commence at Panguna.  It is conceivable that this would involve the PRC as a partner in the joint venture with an Australian mining company.

Risk:  High.  Although PRC preference is for critical infrastructure projects globally, the risk would be high as there are elements within the ABG itself who have a definite preference not to deal with the PRC in any form.  Politically, this option would be impractical.

Gain:  Moderate.  Economically this would be of benefit to Bougainville for the life of the mine, which is expected to be twenty-five years.

Other Comments:  Bangladesh, Croatia, Georgia and Moldova, came to statehood in differing ways with one common denominator, at the time of their proclamation of independence there was no effective government in all four.  This differs from Bougainville, which has had effective governance for some time, elected officials, and its’ own administration separate from PNG.  Of the four nations mentioned above, Moldova is the most relative to Bougainville.  Moldova declared sovereignty on June 23, 1990, providing for the Moldovan constitution and laws to have primacy over those of the Soviet Union.  This was a proclamation of sovereignty and not independence but was a step towards it.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Jennings P. & Claxton K. (2013) A stitch in time. Preserving peace on Bougainville. Australian Strategic Policy Institute Limited.  p.3.

[2]  Jennings P. & Claxton K. (2013) A stitch in time. Preserving peace on Bougainville. Australian Strategic Policy Institute Limited.  p.15.

[3]  Bougainville Mining Act 2015. Autonomous Region of Bougainville (no.3 of 2015).

[4]  United Nations [UN] (2001) Bougainville Peace Agreement. Introduction and OutlineS/2001/988 Enclosure II Bougainville Peace Agreement.  23rd October 2001. p.8

[5]  Woodbury J. (2015) The Bougainville independence referendum: Assessing the risks and challenges before, during and after the referendum. Australian Defence College. Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies. p.9.

[6]  Woodbury J. (2015) The Bougainville independence referendum: Assessing the risks and challenges before, during and after the referendum. Australian Defence College. Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies.  P.7

[7]  Raic D. (2002) Statehood and the Law of Self-Determination. Brill Academic Publishers. p.406.

[8]  Hegarty M. (2015) Chinas growing influence in the South-West Pacific: Australian policies that could respond to Chinese intentions and objectives. Australian Defence College, Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies. p. 8

[9]  Holmes J.R. (2011) Island Chain Defence. The Diplomat. Retrieved 27th March 2017. http://thediplomat.com/2011/04/island-chain-defense/

[10]  Frost E.L. (2007) Chinas Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia. Edited by William W. Keller and Thomas G. Rawsky. Ch. 5. Chinas’ Commercial Diplomacy in Asia. University of Pittsburg  Press. p.95.

[11]  Carr. B. (2017) Canberra’s sensible South China Sea Stand is contingent on continual pragmatism in Beijing. The Weekend Australian. March 18-19, 2017, p.24. News Ltd. Sydney.

Australia Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) Bougainville China (People's Republic of China) Iain Strutt New Zealand Option Papers Papua New Guinea Referendums United States