Autonomous Weapons Systems: Taking the Human out of International Humanitarian Law

James Foy

Abstract


Once confined to science fiction, killer robots will soon be a reality. Both the USA and the UK are currently developing weapons systems that may be capable of autonomously targeting and killing enemy combatants within the next 25 years. According to Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention and customary international law, weapons systems must be capable of operating within the principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). This paper will demonstrate that without significant restrictions on the use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) or the creation of a new legal framework, the use of AWS is problematic. First, there are legitimate concerns that AWS are, by their nature, incapable of adhering to IHL principles. Second, there is a more fundamental problem: the principles of IHL are actually insufficient to address the unique concerns regarding AWS. Finally, the solutions proposed by proponents of AWS do not sufficiently address these concerns. A legal solution beyond the general principles of IHL must be developed. 


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