Remoteness and Reciprocal Risk

Research Handbook on Remote Warfare, edited by Jens David Ohlin (Edward Elgar Press, Forthcoming)

Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-24

43 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2016 Last revised: 29 Jul 2016

See all articles by Jens David Ohlin

Jens David Ohlin

Cornell University - School of Law

Date Written: July 18, 2016


The history of modern weaponry involves the construction of the technological capacity to produce lethal results while exposing the operator to the least amount of risk of death or injury. The most recent examples of this phenomenon are three new weapon categories: remotely piloted vehicles (drones), cyber-weapons, and Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). Each of these categories of weapons allows the attacking force to inflict military damage while the operators of the weapon remain safely shielded from the theater of operations. The overall strategy is to create a system that grants the operator total immunity from risk but still inflicts maximum damage to the enemy.

This chapter will propose, explain, and critically examine the concept of reciprocal risk. It will seek to determine whether there is, in fact, a historical norm in favor of reciprocal risk in warfare, and how the advent of drones, cyber-weapons, and AWS have impacted this putative norm. After evaluating the alleged and often assumed rupture to reciprocal risk caused by technological innovation in weapons design, this chapter will then examine two familiar objections to these technologies. The first is whether the weapons will, by creating a severe asymmetry in risk, allow states to exercise force cavalierly, and remove an important check on warfare that helps limit the number of jus ad bellum violations across the globe. Having examined that anxiety, the final part of this chapter will ask whether reciprocal risk is an essential ethical component of basic norms of chivalry. This latter analysis will require an examination of legal principles under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and ethical principles embodied in just war theory.

Keywords: targeted killings, drones, cyber, cyberwar, AWS, Autonomous Weapon Systems, chivalry, reciprocal risk, Law of Armed Conflict

Suggested Citation

Ohlin, Jens David, Remoteness and Reciprocal Risk (July 18, 2016). Research Handbook on Remote Warfare, edited by Jens David Ohlin (Edward Elgar Press, Forthcoming); Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-24. Available at SSRN:

Jens David Ohlin (Contact Author)

Cornell University - School of Law ( email )

218 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
(607) 255-0479 (Phone)
(607) 255-7193 (Fax)

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