Back to the Future: Reflections on the Advent of Autonomous Weapons Systems
Newton, Michael A.
This essay refocuses the debate over autonomous weapons systems to consider the potentially salutary effects of the evolving technology. Law does not exist in a vacuum and cannot evolve in the abstract. Jus in bello norms should be developed in light of the overarching humanitarian goals, particularly since such weapons are not "inherently unlawful or unethical" in all circumstances. This essay considers whether a preemptive ban on autonomous weapons systems is likely to be effective and enforceable. It examines the grounds potentially justifying a preemptive ban, concluding that there is little evidence that such a ban would advance humanitarian goals because of a foreseeable lack of complete adherence. The essay concludes by suggesting three affirmative values that would be served by fully vetted and field-tested technological advances represented by autonomous weapons. Properly developed and deployed, autonomous weapons might well advance the core purposes of jus in bello by helping the balance the twin imperatives of military necessity and humanitarian interests.