Aspects of Realizing (Meaningful) Human Control: A Legal Perspective

21 Pages Posted: 13 May 2022

See all articles by Berenice Boutin

Berenice Boutin

T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Taylor Woodcock

T.M.C. Asser Institute

Date Written: May 11, 2022


The concept of ‘meaningful human control’ (MHC) has progressively emerged as a key frame of reference to conceptualize the difficulties posed by military applications of artificial intelligence (AI), and to identify solutions to mitigate these challenges. At the same time, this notion remains relatively indeterminate and difficult to operationalize. If MHC is to support the existing framework of international law applicable to military AI, it needs to be clarified in order to deal with the challenges of AI broadly construed, not limited to ‘autonomous weapons systems’ (AWS). This chapter seeks to refine the notion of MHC by exploring its nature and purpose, and reflecting on how MHC relates to core concepts of human agency and responsibility. Building on this analysis, we propose ways to operationalize MHC, in particular by putting greater emphasis on pre-deployment stages. A legal ‘compliance by design’ approach is advanced by the authors as a means to address the complex realities when military decision-making processes are mediated by AI-enabled technologies.

Keywords: autonomous weapons systems, meaningful human control, artificial intelligence, human agency, human-machine interaction, compliance by design

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Boutin, Berenice and Woodcock, Taylor, Aspects of Realizing (Meaningful) Human Control: A Legal Perspective (May 11, 2022). T.M.C. Asser Institute for International & European Law, Asser Research Paper 2022-07, forthcoming in: Geiß, R. and Lahmann, H. (eds.), Research Handbook on Warfare and Artificial Intelligence, Edward Elgar Publishing., Available at SSRN:

Berenice Boutin (Contact Author)

T.M.C. Asser Instituut ( email )

P.O. Box 30461
2500 GL The Hague, 2517JN

Taylor Woodcock

T.M.C. Asser Institute ( email )

R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22
The Hague, 2517 JN

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