World Council of Churches


Bossey, Switzerland

20-26 November 2019

Doc. No. 04.4 rev


Minute on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems – “Killer Robots”


The World Council of Churches is gravely concerned by the ethical implications of efforts by a number of countries – notably the USA, Russia, China, UK, France, Israel and South Korea – to develop automated weapons systems with significant autonomy regarding the selection of targets. Such weapons, if developed to be fully autonomous, would make decisions on who lives and who dies. All meaningful real-time human control would be eliminated, and likewise the direct legal, ethical and moral responsibility and accountability for such decision-making. Moreover, the development of such weapons raises the spectre of a new and destabilising robotic arms race.

Research has demonstrated how biases can even unintentionally be programmed into Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, and concerns are now being expressed that technology can be developed which would intentionally build racial profiling and bias into such weapons, leading to situations, for example, where people with certain features common to those of particular ethnicities, such as skin colour, would be more at risk of being targeted by so-called ‘killer robots’.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was formed in 2012. It is a coalition of 114 international, regional and national NGOs in 58 countries. The campaign has the goal of securing a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons. Despite the obvious moral and ethical implications of the issue, the Campaign so far has limited participation by faith-based actors.

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, on 20-26 November 2019:

Affirms the grave concern of the ecumenical movement for the ethical, moral and legal implications of the development and deployment of fully autonomous weapons systems with the capacity to identify, select and execute attacks on individual targets without real-time control, decision-making and responsibility by human decision-makers.

Considers such weapons systems to be fundamentally objectionable and unconscionable, and calls for a pre-emptive ban on the further development and deployment of such weapons.

Proposes that WCC join the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and – within the constraints of available staff time and capacity – contribute its faith-based voice and authority to this civil society campaign to pre-empt this new militaristic threat to human life, dignity and rights.

Calls upon WCC member churches, particularly in countries that are developing such weapons systems, to advocate with their governments to cease such development and to support an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.