Unmanned combat aircraft systems and international humanitarian law : simplifying the oft benighted debate
Michael N. Schmitt
Host item entries:
Boston university international law journal, Vol. 30, no. 2, Summer 2012, p. 595-619
There are very few legal issues unique to unmanned combat aircraft systems (UCAS). For instance there is disagreement among legal experts as to whether counter-terrorist operations mounted outside the context of an ongoing armed conflict should be considered international armed conflict, non-international armed conflict or armed conflict at all. The question is significant, for its answer will determine which body of law to apply to UCAS cross-border operations. However, the fact that UCAS is the means of attack has no bearing on the determination. Furthermore, controversial issues raised by targeted killing operations, such as the legal status of the target or the individual conducting the strike, have little to do with the fact taht a UCAS was employed instead of other means, such as cyber attacks or car bombs. This article attempts to identify, explain and demystify the key international humanitarian legal (IHL) issues that should be considered by those charged with rendering ex ante advice or making ex post facto assessments about UCAS operations. The article does not discuss the jus ad bellum.