Killer Robots, Inequality and COVID-19: What do they have in common?


At the Reykjavik Global Forum 2019, Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate, Founding Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, concluded three days of groundbreaking discussions, and meaningful exchanges of ideas and experiences with a call for united action. The subject of her plea? To stop the spread of killer robots, and the deployment of artificial intelligence, that removes humans from the equation.

While the variety of challenges that humanity faces as a collective entity knows no bounds, the most sustainable solutions are quite comparable and reflect a legacy of communication, collaboration, and multilateral partnerships.

Drawing on her formidable experience working to ban anti-personnel landmines globally, Ms. Williams emphasised the importance of cooperative effort and optimistic endurance in cultivating meaningful change:


“The reason that this session is titled ‘Peace is not for the faint of heart’ is because of the example of the landmine campaign…It’s about perseverance, even if you get sick of being out there talking about war and disarmament because it is not an uplifting subject.”

The campaign, which to date is one of the most successful disarmament campaigns worldwide, boasts 164 countries as members. More astoundingly still, was Ms. Williams’ confession that this monumental achievement was completed in the span of just five years. 


“We grew from 2 NGOs and only one staff person to 1,300 NGOs in 19 countries and in the space of 5 years we were able to get countries to do what they should have done: ban anti-personnel landmines.”


By working with NGOs across borders and with governments around the world, Ms. Williams and her coalition of dedicated partners were able to achieve a seemingly impossible goal in a short period of time. 

And the banning of landmines worldwide is not the only example that illustrates the transformative power of multilateral efforts in support of sustainable peace. Since the charter of the United Nations was signed in 1945, the international political arena has strived to act collaboratively in times of crisis and good fortune. 

The Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are just two of the most recent instances of the global community uniting to create a more peaceful world. Despite milestone accomplishments for peacekeeping and peacebuilding over the past few decades, there remains resistance and countless novel challenges. 

A recent rise in populism and the resurgent nationalist sentiment is threatening the strides that diplomacy and multilateralism have made since the end of World War II. It is up to today’s leaders to promote, protect and revitalize the international community’s faith in collective action for a more peaceful world because if there is one thing that should be taken away from the current COVID-19 pandemic it’s that acting alone won’t offer durable or inclusive responses. 

On this day, the second annual International Day for Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace 2020, it is crucial that leaders connect with their constituents and peers to restore global trust and resources into multilateral efforts. Despite comprising only 7% of Heads of State, women political leaders are rising to the forefront of crisis response by demonstrating the power of conscientious and cooperative action, in lieu of isolationist tactics. Perhaps these women leaders, like Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Tsai Ing-Wen, Erna Solberg, and many more, can be viewed as beacons of hope for future multilateral efforts and collaborative dialogue.

Of course, as contemporary leadership has shown, and as Jody Williams insight illustrated, multilateralism in and of itself is neither good nor bad; a successful approach to peacebuilding requires common principles and shared values as well. It’s around these shared ideologies that the international community can come together to achieve unimaginable success. 

That’s why when asking the women leaders at the Reykjavik Global Forum for their support in the effort to ensure that killer robots cannot be used in combat, Ms. Williams underlined the backbone of the campaign:

“I have hope because if we were able to ban anti-personnel landmines in 5 years, I know that when we work together: governments, businesses, and NGOs, we can change this world for the better.”


And it’s true. Using the power every person detains, together, will change the world for the better, whether that be in response to the largest global pandemic in a generation, in the fight to advance equality for women, or to ban killer robots. While these various challenges may require vastly different expertise, action, and planning to meet their respective goal of creating a more peaceful world, they do share one common thread: only through the use of multilateral and cooperative efforts will they be achieved.