Shining a Regulatory Spotlight on New Lasers
32 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 21, 2016
The purpose of this article is to consider potential legal implications of deployment of nano-enhanced technology in armed conflict. Nano-lasers will undoubtedly enhance the performance of many weapons systems, including autonomous systems, with better energy storage, more rapid computations, and lower power consumption, to name just a few features, but in this article I consider just two types of technology purportedly utilising nano-lasers. Firstly, I will discuss the Laser Weapons System (“LaWS”), a directed weapon already in use. The LaWS system is often wrongly described as nano-enhanced; I will explain why the descriptor is fallacious while also discussing the legal implications, if any, which arise from the deployment of the system (and whether this error has any legal implications). Secondly, I will examine optogenetics, which utilises nano-laser light delivery technology to effectively switch neurons “on” and “off” to alter brain function. This technology is currently at the research stage with mice, and has not yet been used by the military. I plan to identify the key legal implications if such technology were to be used in humans in armed conflict.
Two key legal issues arise in relation to both technological developments. One involves the responsibility of States Parties to Additional Protocol I to review and supervise the use of emerging weapons technology to ensure compliance with the law of armed conflict (LOAC) and the second involves identifying what specific and general rules may apply to such technology. General legal principles have relevance to all means and methods of warfare and so apply as much to nano-enhanced or based laser weapons systems as to any other category of lethal or non-lethal weapon. Furthermore, the lack of anticipation of the technology by the original drafters does not remove the obligation to review any such technology before its use in armed conflict.
Keywords: nanotechnology, lasers, IHL, LOAC, emerging technologies
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