The idea that using “killer robots” in armed conflict is unacceptable because they are not human is at the heart of nearly every critique of autonomous weapons. Some of those critiques are deontological, such as the claim that the decision to use lethal force requires a combatant to suffer psychologically and risk sacrifice, which is impossible for machines. Other critiques are consequentialist, such as the claim that autonomous weapons will never be able to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) because machines lack human understanding and the ability to feel compassion.
This article challenges anthropocentric critiques of AWS. Such critiques, whether deontological or consequentialist, are uniformly based on a very specific concept of “the human” who goes to war: namely, the Enlightenment subject who perceives the world accurately, understands rationally, is impervious to negative emotions, and reliably translates thought into action. Decades of research in cognitive psychology indicate, however, that the Enlightenment subject does not exist. On the contrary, human decision-making is profoundly distorted by cognitive and social biases, negative emotions, and physiological limitations — particularly when humans find themselves in dangerous and uncertain situations like combat. Given those flaws, and in light of rapid improvement in sensor and AI technology, it is only a matter of time until autonomous weapons are able to comply with IHL better than human soldiers ever have or ever will.
The article itself is divided into five sections. Section I critiques deontological objections to autonomous weapons. It shows that those objections either wrongly anthropomorphize AWS by assuming they “decide” on targets in a manner similar to humans or are predicated on a romanticized and anachronistic view of war in which most killing takes place face-to-face between combatants of equal status.
Section II addresses the common argument that IHL compliance requires human understanding — particularly the ability to discern the intentions of potential targets. The section demonstrates that such understanding is far less necessary to IHL than AWS critics assume and explains why, in those situations in which judgment is necessary, limits on human decision-making undermine the idea that human soldiers are more likely to comply with IHL than autonomous weapons.
Section III responds to the claim that autonomous weapons will not be able to comply with IHL as well as human soldiers because machines cannot feel compassion. It shows that compassion is irrelevant to IHL compliance, that compassion can lead to negative outcomes in combat as well as positive ones, and that any potential benefits of compassion are far outweighed by the costs of negative emotions such as stress and anger.
Section IV addresses the argument that the non-human nature of autonomous weapons makes it difficult, if not impossible, to hold humans responsible for war crimes that AWS commit. The section demonstrates not only that the problem of “accountability gaps” is significantly overstated, but also that there is no significant difference between human soldiers and autonomous weapons in terms of criminal responsibility.
Finally, Section V explores the implications of the idea that it is highly likely autonomous weapons will eventually be able to comply with IHL as well as — if not better than — human soldiers. It argues that consequentialist critics are not primarily concerned AWS will be worse soldiers than humans. Instead, their real worry is that they will be better ones, because the more humane war becomes, the more difficult it will be to eliminate war itself. This, the section argues, is actually the most powerful argument against autonomous weapons — but one that applies to most of the weapons developed over the past century.
Thursday, February 2, 2023
Heller: The Concept of 'The Human' in the Critique of Autonomous Weapons
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
New Additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law
The Audiovisual Library of International Law is also available as a podcast on SoundCloud and can also be accessed through the relevant preinstalled applications on Apple or Google devices, or through the podcast application of your preference by searching “Audiovisual Library of International Law.”
New Issue: La Comunità Internazionale
- Articoli e Saggi
- Maria Chiara Vitucci, Le ciberoperazioni e il diritto internazionale, con alcune considerazioni sul conflitto ibrido russo-ucraino
- Michele Nino, The Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech in Cyberspace
- Martina Di Lollo, Alla ricerca di una crescita economica inclusiva: il ruolo delle IFI nell’attuazione delle politiche gender sensitive
- Osservatorio Europeo
- Claudia Morini, Alcune riflessioni sulla non neutralità dei bilanci: focus su Unione europea e gender budgeting
- Osservatorio Diritti Umani
- Vincenzo Lorubbio, Prevenzione della tortura in Europa: la complessa triangolazione istituzionale tra CPT, SPT e NPMs. Cui prodest?
New Issue: Questions of International Law
- ‘There is great chaos under heaven’ but the situation does not seem ‘excellent’ at all. A reassessment of the Taiwan question, from statehood to the rules on the use of force
- Introduced by Marco Pertile
- Tarcisio Gazzini, Statehood in troubled waters: The international status of the Republic of China and the rules on the use of force
- Matthias Hartwig, How many Chinas exist in International Law?
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Jones: Feminist Theory and International Law: Posthuman Perspectives
Feminist approaches to international law have been mischaracterised by the mainstream of the discipline as being a niche field that pertains only to women’s lived experiences and their participation in decision-making processes. Exemplifying how feminist approaches can be used to analyse all areas of international law, this book applies posthuman feminist theory to examine the regulation of new and emerging military technologies, international environmental law and the conceptualisation of the sovereign state and other modes of legal personality in international law.
Noting that most posthuman scholarship to date is primarily theoretical, this book also contributes to the field of posthumanism through its application of posthuman feminism to international law, working to bridge the theory and practice divide by using posthuman feminism to design and call for legal change. This interdisciplinary book draws on an array of fields, including philosophy, queer and feminist theories, postcolonial and critical race theories, computer science, critical disability studies, science and technology studies, marine biology, cultural and media studies, Indigenous onto-epistemologies, critical legal theory, political science and beyond to provide a holistic analysis of international law and its inclusions and exclusions.
Monday, January 30, 2023
Tams, Schill, & Hofmann: International Investment Law and General International Law: Radiating Effects?
This book questions whether investment law influences the wider field of general international law, and more specifically, whether approaches adopted by tribunals in investment arbitrations have radiated, or should radiate, into other fields of international law.
To answer this question, the book engages in a detailed analysis of pronouncements by investment tribunals on state responsibility, the law of treaties, and general principles of dispute resolution, and evaluates their impact beyond the narrow field of investment law. The perspectives provided in the book highlight how rules of general international law are concretised, specified, and at times moulded in investment arbitration practice. By doing so, the book enhances our understanding of the relationship between general international law and one its most dynamic sub-disciplines.
Combining conceptual and practical perspectives, and offering a detailed analysis of the pertinent case law, the book is a plea for a fuller engagement directed at both general international lawyers and international investment lawyers.
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Mbengue & Akinkugbe: The Criticism of Eurocentrism and International Law: Countering and Pluralizing the Research, Teaching, and Practice of Eurocentric International Law
This Chapter draws on Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) in examining the question: how does the research and teaching of international law in the Global South challenge Eurocentrism in international law. The Chapter focuses on the emergent activities within Global South that pluralize Eurocentric international law’s dominance in the research production, teaching, and practice arenas. The Chapter pushes against the unfair over-representation of European countries in the scholarly production and institutions of international law. To illustrate the often-underexplored regional diversity of international law outside Europe, the Chapter reflects on the contemporary roles of critical Global South scholars and scholarship in international law, and the sub-fields of international investment law and international human rights law to pluralize the epistemological foundations of the substantive field of international law.
New Issue: Journal of Conflict Resolution
- Michal Smetana & Michal Onderco, From Moscow With a Mushroom Cloud? Russian Public Attitudes to the Use of Nuclear Weapons in a Conflict With NATO Serhat Doğan, Emin Karagözoğlu, Kerim Keskin, & Hüseyin Çağrı Sağlam, Titans that Clash and a State that Buffers
- Allison Carnegie, Joshua D. Kertzer, & Keren Yarhi-Milo, Democratic Peace and Covert Military Force: An Experimental Test
- Hoon Lee, David Lektzian, & Glen Biglaiser, The Effects of Economic Sanctions on Foreign Asset Expropriation
- Ryan Yu-Lin Liou, Amanda Murdie, & Dursun Peksen, Pressures From Home and Abroad: Economic Sanctions and Target Government Response to Domestic Campaigns
- Anna Getmansky & Chagai M. Weiss, Interstate Conflict Can Reduce Support for Incumbents: Evidence from the Israeli Electorate and the Yom Kippur War
- Min Ye & Quan Li, Examining UN PKO contributions at multiple levels
- Moritz Schmoll & Wang Leung Ting, Explaining Physical Violence in Parliaments
- Daniel Krcmaric & Abel Escribà-Folch, I’ll Be Back? Exiled Leaders and Political Instability
- Sharan Grewal & Matthew D. Cebul, Can Religious Reinterpretations Bridge the Secular-Religious Divide? Experimental Evidence from Tunisia
- Travers B Child, Losing Hearts & Minds: Aid and Ideology
- Johannes Karreth, Jason Quinn, Madhav Joshi, & Jaroslav Tir, International Third Parties and the Implementation of Comprehensive Peace Agreements After Civil War
- Data Set Feature
- Charles Miller & K. Shuvo Bakar, Conflict Events Worldwide Since 1468BC: Introducing the Historical Conflict Event Dataset