Remote and Autonomous Warfare Systems – Precautions in Attack and Individual Accountability
Research Handbook on Remote Warfare, Edward Elgar Press, Jens David Ohlin ed., 2016, Forthcoming
24 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2016
Date Written: June 10, 2016
The long and tragic history of human warfare manifests an endless quest for more effective ways to conduct attacks and defeat adversaries. This has in turn driven innovation in means and methods of defence against attacks. Remote warfare exemplifies both streams of development. The ability to conduct effective attacks at great distance from your own forces is a significant advantage in attack. Similarly, the ability to distance military personnel from the effective range of enemy weapons is a significant advantage in defence. Military forces have sought these advantages since time immemorial.
Modern remote weapon systems, including vehicles that can be operated remotely, are but the latest element in this continuum of development. For a variety of reasons, the means of remote warfare that involve armed remotely operated vehicles have evoked significant social, political and legal reactions. The next evolution, autonomous weapon systems (AWS), inherent in which is the concept of autonomous decision making by machines to conduct attacks on human beings, arouses visceral trepidation for many and has given rise to calls for bans before the technology can be developed. The potential development of remote AWS is an important topic for legal and ethical discussion by governments, non-government organisations and scholars. This chapter discusses the legal dimensions of remote AWS, analysing how the precautions in attack in Article 57 of Additional Protocol I might apply to such systems and how the persons creating or using such systems may be held accountable under international humanitarian law for outcomes of their use.
The authors suggest that this analysis of the law has demonstrated that neither remote warfare systems nor autonomous weapon systems are means of warfare that are currently proscribed by the law of armed conflict. Like all means of warfare, there are methods of use of these systems that may contravene the law of armed conflict.
There is no doubt that continued developments in remote and automated systems will inspire further study of the law as it applies to such systems and further advocacy for what the law ought to be. It also seems that the developments in remote and autonomous systems may be destined to change the role played by combatants; but it appears unlikely that this will reduce the role played by lawyers.
Keywords: International armed conflict, non-international armed conflict, Law of Armed Conflict, LOAC, International Humanitarian Law, IHL, targeting, distinction, precautions in attack, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, UAV, remote warfare, AWS, Autonomous Weapon Systems
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