Even Killer Robots Have a Gender Gap

The United Nations isn't following its own rules on equality -- and it's time to make it start.

When the first multilateral meeting on the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) convened at the U.N. in Geneva in May, not one woman was called to speak on the expert panels that informed the discussions. The weapons, more popularly known as "killer robots," are not a gendered issue -- as all matters of conflict do, they will impact women and men alike. Yet it seems that no "qualified" woman could be found to act as one of the 18 purported experts that the U.N. treaty organization called to give their views on the implications these weapons have for ethics, laws of war, and technical and operational issues.

Though independent groups and activists have as a whole made headway in being heard on disarmament and security issues, women too often remain sidelined in official and semi-official settings. The worldwide campaign against LAWS is a perfect example -- and a model for how to push back.

The previous November, states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) had agreed to hold informal talks on the weapons after just seven months of pressure by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, launched in April 2013. Government delegations, U.N. agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and nongovernmental organizations under the banner of the campaign participated. 

These weapons are already under development by several countries. They would completely eliminate a role for human judgment and compassion in making decisions about when to use a lethal weapon, endangering civilians both in wartime and in policing situations. The result of a misjudgment would most likely be fatal. Such weapons should be banned before it is too late to halt their development.

Officially, only the Norwegian government protested the exclusion of women, citing highly touted -- if little practiced -- U.N. resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. At the same, however, the government pointed out that all of the so-called side events, organized by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (CSKR) on the same topics covered by the official sessions, were gender balanced.

Behind the scenes, several men from the CSKR were quietly told that the reason that all of the "expert presenters" were men was because "there were no suitable women to fill the slots." But just what does it mean that there were no suitable women to speak as experts on peace security? And why are governments still resisting women's inclusion?

Resolution 1325, cited by the Norwegians, "[u]rges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict." Since its passage, though, precious few peace negotiations have included any women at all. And as demonstrated in the Geneva discussions on LAWS, we remain "unsuitable" to even give an expert opinion on ethics or the laws of war, let alone on robotic weapons themselves.

Despite all the bluster and high-sounding words about the need for "diversity," "inclusion," and for "empowering women," neither the bluster nor the words have resulted in meaningful change.

To be sure, U.N. officials and governments alike credited the work of the campaign for bringing the issue to the fore and spurring the talks. The campaign had taken an issue that had not been publicly discussed and within a year brought it to the halls of the U.N. for this first "expert session" on the weapons. 

The recognition and increased acceptance of the role of independent groups and activists in arms control and disarmament discussions is in many ways a tribute to the hard work of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, of which I was the founding coordinator, and the Cluster Munition Coalition, each of which worked closely with governments, U.N. agencies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to successfully ban landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008.

Needless to say, the CSKR publicly protested the lack of women among the experts in the Geneva sessions -- and we were joined by one of the expert presenters as well. The official response to our questions about why women were not included was weak and unconvincing, and officials indicated that we should be pleased that at least one of the moderators of an expert panel was a woman from one of the government delegations.

While governments continue to resist gender balance, nongovernmental organizations and activists will continue to press for change. In fact, as a result of the Geneva talks, campaign members are taking an even more active stance to end gender discrimination in global policymaking. 

One of the founding members of the campaign, a British organization known as Article 36 -- refering to a Geneva Convention protocol regarding new weapons and methods of warfare -- began compiling a list of men working in the field of peace and security who would make a commitment not to speak on panels that include only men. 

Within a days of opening the list, more than three dozen men had already signed on -- and the list is being shared beyond members of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Other campaign members have begun compiling lists of women working in these areas to facilitate the ability of governments to find "suitable" women experts.

Government and U.N. bodies need to recognize the critical role women play in helping shape disarmament, peace, and security discussions, and to recognize, solicit, and promote women's expertise in contributing to our own security in an insecure world. That time is well past due -- and the reaction to the U.N.'s failure to enforce its standards show that women, and men, aren't willing to wait any longer.

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Why Australians Are Cool With Spying

Edward Snowden might have given international snooping a bad name in America and Europe -- but Aussies love it.

The security leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- now safely snug in the bosom of Russian intelligence in Moscow -- may have damaged America's national security and irritated some of its partners. But the effects of these revelations have also reverberated out to complicate the foreign relations of U.S. allies -- namely, Australia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was offended that the NSA tapped her mobile phone. But Berlin was never going to exact a high price from Washington. The United States is just too important. For Australia and its allies, it's been a different story.

Last November, the newly elected government in Canberra was rocked by Snowden's allegations that Australia's signals intelligence service had monitored the cell phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife. This did great damage to the bilateral relationship between Canberra and Jakarta -- one of Australia's most important connections. Indonesia's ambassador to Australia was recalled the same day. Indonesia suspended vital intelligence and military cooperation with Australia, which is critical to fighting drug syndicates and people-smugglers. Relations have not yet fully returned to normal.

Yet, despite all this, Australians remain remarkably sanguine about their government's espionage activities. In the 2014 Lowy Institute Poll, which was released last week, seven out of 10 Australians say that it is acceptable for the Australian government to spy on countries with which Australia does not have good relations. And five out of 10 Australians say that spying is acceptable even against countries with which it has good relations.

A majority believes it is fine for Australia to spy on China (65 percent), Indonesia (62 percent), East Timor (60 percent), Japan (58 percent), France (53 percent), and even its close neighbor New Zealand (51 percent). More than half of Australians think it's okay for the government to spy on its great ally, the United States! (Don't take it personally.)

Australians are much more partial to spying, it seems, than are Americans or Europeans.

Surveys by the Pew Research Center in late 2013 found that 56 percent of Americans say it is unacceptable "for the U.S. to monitor the phone calls of the leaders of allied nations." The German Marshall Fund found in September 2013 that only one-third or less of the British, French, German, Swedish, and U.S. populations think governments "are justified in collecting the telephone and Internet data of citizens in other allied countries as part of the effort to protect national security." In Germany, a full 72 percent said that such intelligence activities are not justified.

Why are Australians so laid-back when it comes to spying? The answer flows partly from the country's national character: Having built a successful society on an unforgiving continent, Australians are laconic in humor and pragmatic by disposition.

This tendency is reinforced by its geopolitical circumstances.

For most of its history, the world was run by countries friendly to Australia. When the world map was painted pink, it was a member in good standing of the British Empire. Throughout the Pax Americana, Australia has been a highly reliable treaty ally of the United States. But now, its great and powerful friends are becoming less great and powerful. And wealth and power are moving eastward.

The economic outlook in Asia is strong, but the security outlook is unclear. A number of regional powers, including Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam, are vying for advantage. There are troubling tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the East and South China Seas.

The international behavior of China is increasingly unpredictable and aggressive, and there are worrying signs about America's readiness to face the China challenge. Australians noticed that in his big foreign-policy speech at West Point, President Barack Obama did not even mention his much-ballyhooed "rebalance" towards Asia. How seriously can Australians take a doctrine that the president has barely explained at home?

Australia would hate to see a new Cold War between the United States and China. But there are even more worrisome scenarios. What if America retreats while China advances? What if we face the worst possible combination: a feckless America and a reckless China?

Australia also faces non-state threats, including the persistent problem of Islamist terrorism. Australians have been the targets and victims of terrorism on a number of occasions since 9/11, including in several major bombings in Indonesia. According to the 2014 Lowy Institute Poll, "international terrorism" is one of the foremost threats in the minds of the Australian public. Sixty-five percent of Australians see it as a critical threat to the nation's vital interests.

Australians may live on an island -- but it's in a sketchy neighborhood. Asia is gentrifying, but the increased wealth is magnifying threats and tensions rather than ameliorating them. Australians are closer to the world's most pressing crisis, and closer to the world's developing crises -- less isolated, but also less insulated.

Is it any wonder, then, that Australians are comfortable with their government using all possible means to understand what is happening in the world around them?