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Could autonomous weapon systems violate international laws?

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Autonomous weapon systems (AWS) are weapons that can engage or select targets without any human intervention. However, they have raised many legal, ethical, and humanitarian concerns. One of the major concerns is their ability to violate international laws, especially international humanitarian law (IHL), which regulates the conduct of armed conflict.

Do you think we are safe with a weapon that has the intelligence to select its target and engage without any emotional control? Although it protects army soldiers, the deciding factor of whether or not to shoot is quite critical.

It also shows a dependency on technology that is calling the shots based on algorithms and data. The ongoing conflicts such as Israel vs. Hamas highlight the vulnerability and the impact of being attacked under heavy technological surveillance with less human oversight, raising the question of whether we are truly safe even with the latest technology.

Can we prevent unknown casualties unless people’s mindsets change?

According to some experts, there are no loopholes in international law regarding the use of AWS. The existing rules and principles of IHL are sufficient to regulate AWS as long as they comply with the requirements of distinction, proportionality, and precaution.

Compliance with IHL can be enhanced by reducing human errors, biases, and emotions. However, other experts argue that significant legal gaps and challenges are posed by AWS.

They state that existing rules and principles of IHL are not adequate to address the complexity and unpredictability of AWS, especially those with high levels of autonomy and learning capabilities. It also questions whether AWS could respect the dignity and value of human life and whether they could be held accountable for their actions.

As of now, we cannot definitively say whether AWS could violate international laws or not. It shows that AWS is designed, developed, deployed, and used in different situations and contexts.

Hence, the scenarios show the reason for the ongoing debate on the governance of AWS at the United Nations and other forums. Deciding definitively about the ethical use of AWS is quite challenging.

As we navigate through different views and values on the purpose of ethical use, trade-offs and dilemmas are always involved. The main reasons to promote the ethical use of AWS are:

• Clear, transparent, and consistent definitions and standards of AWS, such as their level of autonomy, accountability, and human control.

• The need to revise laws, regulations, policies, and codes of conduct.

• Ensuring that international humanitarian law is in accordance with its principles and rules, as well as human rights law.

Even though the steps are practical to be seen and easy to deploy, it is known that matters such as AWS and IHL are not easy and need to be in accord with all guidelines.

Sources:- Autonomous weapon system (pdf), Oxford academic, icrc, Cambridge (pdf), japcc

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