Making arms control: Knowledge and expertise in and of arms control processes of emerging technologies

Current develop­ments in the field of artificial intelligence, automation and autonomy are playing an increasingly important role, especially in the civilian but also in the military sector. The former sees innovations in auto­nomous driving or facial recognition in smartphones, while the latter expe­riences the diffusion of technology from the civilian sector to military appli­cations. One of the more prominent develop­ments is currently taking place in the area of lethal auto­nomous weapons systems. Interestingly, these weapons systems are already engaged with in arms control forums on the inter­national agenda despite the fact that fully autonomous weapons have yet to be fielded. This is in contrast to many weapons techno­logies that are not subject to any regulation or arms control processes. Never­theless, attempts at regulating autonomous weapons systems are stagnating while the established demand of NGOs, namely a ban treaty, remains a distant dream.

This dissertation project looks into the question of how knowledge about techno­logical develop­ments is generated in the first place, and what role this knowledge and expertise plays in arms control processes concerning autonomous weapon systems. The project begins with the essential conside­ration of how arms control processes actually work internally. On the one hand, arms control is no longer directed by states alone; experts, NGOs and civil society actors, the private sector, and many other stake­holders assert influence on these processes. On the other hand, knowledge generation concerning technologies—specifically the potential effects and possibilities of regulation—is no longer explicitly reserved for a group of experts. Many attributions of meaning, inter­pretations and states of knowledge are in competition with each other. These are found in socio-technical imaginaries. In this context, it is important to determine how the practices of knowledge production and autho­rization work, and how they 'make' or shape arms control. This dissertation will analyse these processes in the context of the debate on auto­nomous weapon systems in order to advance the under­standing of arms control itself.