LAWS in International Law

39 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2021

See all articles by Abhimanyu George Jain

Abhimanyu George Jain

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Department of International Law

Date Written: August 30, 2021


The emerging international regulatory framework for lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) relies on the continuing applicability of international law and the maintenance of human control and responsibility. But it remains unclear what LAWS are, whether and how international law might suffice to regulate them, and how human control and responsibility can be maintained. This dissonance between the regulatory consensus and its foundations forms the premise for this paper.

The prevalence of the consensus in the face of this dissonance implies work that bridges the dissonance. Four discursive strategies play a role in this bridging work. Through conflation, different types of LAWS are subsumed within an imaginary which is more easily accommodated within the regulatory consensus. Deferral creates a façade of consensus while shifting contentious issues to the national sphere. Normalisation operates to de-emphasise the novelty of LAWS, while valorisation pulls in the opposite direction by exaggerating the virtues of LAWS.

Recognising this dissonance and identifying the strategies which bridge it suggests the contingency of the regulatory consensus. But contextualising LAWS against the international legal regulation of military force reveals this contingency to be false. The neoliberal abandonment of politics that produces the everywhere-forever war on terror demands a technocratic solution, a fantasy in which LAWS star as the holy grail. The everywhere-forever war is an affordance of LAWS and secures their permissive regulation.

This exegesis of the regulation of LAWS in international law is relevant to the logics and possibilities of regulating LAWS. But in uncovering the ways in which the neoliberal war on terror forecloses the possibilities of regulation of LAWS, it also provides valuable insights into the possible futures of armed conflict, and international law-making processes generally, especially in relation to new technologies.

Keywords: Lethal autonomous weapon systems, False contingency, Neoliberalism, War on terror, Group of Government Experts on LAWS

Suggested Citation

George Jain, Abhimanyu, LAWS in International Law (August 30, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Abhimanyu George Jain (Contact Author)

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Department of International Law ( email )


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