Taking humans out of the loop : implications for international humanitarian law
Comment by Markus Wagner
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Journal of law, information and science, Vol. 21, issue 2, 2011/2012, p. 155-165
The current generation of unmanned vehicles (UVs) is remotely operated, sometimes from a close distance, sometimes over long distances. And while the use of fully autonomous weapons is still a decade or more away, there has been considerable discussion as to when this goal is to be reached. Until a few years ago, it was commonplace for defense officials to consider retaining humans in the loop as an essential component of warfare even in the future. However, a US Department of Defense (DoD) report in 2009, predicted that the technological challenges regarding fully autonomous systems will be overcome by the middle of the century. Technological development has been particularly rapid regarding unmanned aerial vehicles, followed by a vigorous and concomitant public debate. Focusing largely on the legality of targeted killing, this debate has also brought to light the increasing extent to which UAVs have been used in prosecuting armed conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Iraq. This comment first addresses the difference between the current weapon systems and the next generation of truly autonomous weaponry (Part 2), followed by an overview of the applicable rules of armed conflict (Part 3) before offering some concluding remarks (Part 4).