Autonomous weapon systems and international humanitarian law : a reply to the critics
Michael N. Schmitt
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Harvard national security journal, Features,, online February 5, 2013, 37 p.
This article is designed to infuse granularity and precision into the legal debates surrounding such weapon systems and their use in the future "battlespace." It suggests that whereas some conceivable autonomous weapon systems might be prohibited as a matter of law, the use of others will be unlawful only when employed in a manner that runs contrary to international humanitarian law’s prescriptive norms. This article concludes that Human Rights Watch report "Losing Humanity"'s recommendation to ban the systems is insupportable as a matter of law, policy, and operational good sense. Human Rights Watch’s analysis sells international humanitarian law short by failing to appreciate how the law tackles the very issues about which the organization expresses concern. Perhaps the most glaring weakness in the recommendation is the extent to which it is premature. No such weapons have even left the drawing board. To ban autonomous weapon systems altogether based on speculation as to their future form is to forfeit any potential uses of them that might minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects when compared to other systems in military arsenals.