Categorization and legality of autonomous and remote weapons systems

This article reconsiders the status and legality of both autonomous and remote weapons systems under international humanitarian law. Technologically advanced unmanned military systems are being introduced into the modern battlespace with insufficient recognition of their potential challenge to international humanitarian law. The article questions the understanding of both autonomous and remote weapons systems as 'weapons' and seeks to consider how their use may impact existing legal categories. Their use is then specifically situated to consider the legality of their deployment in certain contexts. Finally, the article raises the question of impunity for the use of both autonomous and remote weapons systems that arise from the inability to attribute responsibility for the harm they cause. It is imperative that law and policy are developed to govern the development and deployment of these advanced weapons systems to forestall these likely situations of impunity.

Keywords: drones, military robotics, robotic soldiers, autonomous weapons systems, automated weapons systems, remote weapons systems, impunity.

About the author

Hin-Yan Liu
Max Weber Fellow, European University Institute, and Adjunct Professor, NYU Florence