Autonomous weapons and the problem of state accountability
Daniel N. Hammond
Host item entries:
Chicago journal of international law, Vol. 15, issue 2, 2014, p. 652-687
Currently in development and expected to become functional in the near future, fully autonomous weapons will have the capacity to operate entirely on their own, selecting targets and completing missions without human involvement. The prospective development of these weapons has raised concerns among some scholars who fear that the weapons would be unable to meet international legal standards. One criticism consistently raised is that in the event one of these weapons commits a war crime or human rights violation, it is not clear who should be held accountable. In this context, critics have focused primarily on whether military officers, designers, or manufacturers could (or should) be held individually liable. Few, however, have explored whether state liability is a viable option. This Comment takes up this inquiry, arguing that state liability would be preferable to individual liability because the state is in the best position to minimize its weapons' potential violations of international law and seems to be the most culpable actor in a moral sense. Nevertheless, although state liability is possible in the abstract, legal and practical barriers make the international legal regime as it stands ill-equipped to ensure that states would actually be held responsible for their weapons' crimes. If state liability is to resolve the accountability problem, the international community will need to make adjustments to this regime.