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International Review of the Red Cross, 2012 - No 886 – New technologies and warfare

The International Review of the Red Cross is a quarterly published by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Cambridge University Press.


Texts published by the Review reflect the views of the author alone and not necessarily those of the ICRC or of the Review. Only texts bearing an ICRC signature may be ascribed to the institution.

Issue No. 886 – 2012

Theme - New technologies and warfare

Download pdfPDF 8 MB Recent scientific and technical progress has given rise to unprecedented means and methods of warfare. Technologies that only yesterday were in the realm of science fiction have the potential to cause catastrophes tomorrow. Other recent developments, however, could not only limit civilian losses, but also spare the lives of combatants. Certain features of these new technologies raise unprecedented issues that make the legality of an attack more difficult to ascertain, and the attribution of responsibility more complex. In this issue of the Review, various ethics, legal, scientific, and military experts focus on contemporary technological developments and their consequences, and discuss the issues they raise for humanitarian law and action.
By article: New technologies and warfare - issue No. 886

Table of contents


  • Editorial: Science cannot be placed above its consequences
    Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-Chief
  • Interview with Peter W. Singer
    In this interview, Peter Singer explains to what extent and how new technologies change the way we think about going to war and the way we conduct war, as well as how they will impact the work of humanitarian actors. He shares his vision for the future, analyzing both the ethical and legal challenges that access to new advanced technologies poses and the opportunities it offers.

How are new technologies changing modern warfare?

  • New capabilities in warfare: an overview of contemporary technological developments and the associated legal and engineering issues in Article 36 weapons reviews
    Alan Backstrom and Ian Henderson
    The increasing complexity of weapon systems requires an interdisciplinary approach to the conduct of weapon reviews. Developers need to be aware of international humanitarian law principles that apply to the employment of weapons. Lawyers need to be aware of how a weapon will be operationally employed and use this knowledge to help formulate meaningful operational guidelines.
  • Cyber conflict and international humanitarian law
    Herbert Lin
    Conflict in cyberspace refers to actions taken by parties to a conflict to gain advantage over their adversaries in cyberspace by using various technological tools and people based techniques. In principle, advantages can be obtained by damaging, destroying, disabling, or usurping an adversary’s computer systems (‘cyber attack’) or by obtaining information that the adversary would prefer to keep secret (‘cyber espionage’ or ‘cyber exploitation’).

New technologies and the law

  • Get off my cloud: cyber warfare, international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians
    Cordula Droege
    The potential humanitarian impact of some cyber operations on the civilian population is enormous. This article seeks to address some of the questions that arise when applying international humanitarian law – a body of law that was drafted with traditional kinetic warfare in mind – to cyber technology.
  • Some legal challenges posed by remote attack
    William Boothby
    Attacking from a distance is nothing new, but with the advent of certain new technologies, attacks can be undertaken in which the attacker remains very remote from the scene where force will be employed. This article analyses the legal issues raised by attacks employing, respectively, remotely piloted vehicles, autonomous attack technologies, and cyber capabilities.
  • Pandora’s box? Drone strikes under jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and international human rights law
    Stuart Casey-Maslen
    Over the last ten years, the use of drones – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft2 – for military and counterterrorism purposes has seen explosive growth. This article looks at the legality of UAV strikes within and across borders, and within both armed conflict and situations of law enforcement.
  • Categorization and legality of autonomous and remote weapons systems
    Hin-Yan Liu
    Technologically advanced unmanned military systems are being introduced into the modern battlespace with insufficient recognition of their potential challenge to international humanitarian law. This article reconsiders the status and legality of both autonomous and remote weapons systems under international humanitarian law.
  • Nanotechnology and challenges to international humanitarian law: a preliminary legal assessment
    Hitoshi Nasu
    The introduction of nanotechnology into our civil life and warfare is expected to influence the application and interpretation of the existing rules of international humanitarian law. This article examines the challenges posed to international humanitarian law by the widespread use of nanotechnology in light of four basic rules of international humanitarian law.
  • Conflict without casualties… a note of caution: non-lethal weapons and international humanitarian law
    Eve Massingham
    This paper acknowledges the potential suitability of non-lethal weapons for specific situations arising on the battlefield, but cautions against those who advocate for any weakening of existing international humanitarian law frameworks to provide for greater employment of non-lethal technologies.

Ethics, civil society and new technologies

Comments and opinions

  • The evitability of autonomous robot warfare
    Noel E. Sharkey
    This piece is a call for the prohibition of autonomous lethal targeting by free-ranging robots. It points out three main international humanitarian law / ethical issues with armed autonomous robots and discusses misunderstandings about the limitations of robotic systems and artificial intelligence. The article looks at some anthropomorphic ways that robots have been discussed by the military and at problems with some of the current legal instruments, and suggests a way forward to prohibition.
  • A Chinese perspective on cyber war
    Li Zhang
    Confronted with media hype over cyber warfare, China has consistently maintained a cool-headed perspective. On the one hand, China disapproves of ignorantly overplaying the significance of cyber war; on the other, it seeks to promote vigorous discussion by taking part in academic exchanges with its international counterparts.

Reports and documents

Selected article on international humanitarian law

  • ‘Excessive’ ambiguity: analysing and refining the proportionality standard
    Jason D. Wright
    This article analyses the jus in bello proportionality standard under international humanitarian law to assist judge advocates and practitioners in achieving a measure of clarity as to what constitutes ‘excessive’ collateral damage when planning or executing an attack on a legitimate military objective when incidental harm to civilians is expected.

Books and articles

See also