Into the Caves of Steel: Precaution, Cognition and Robotic Weapon Systems Under the International Law of Armed Conflict

Jonathan David Herbach


The pace of development with respect to robotic weapons systems is staggering. Often formulated in the context of a desire of the ‘haves’ States to minimize battlefield casualties and to reduce monetary costs, technological advancement holds a number of ramifications for the law of armed conflict. Specifically, as technology introduces the possibility of increasingly autonomous forms of robotic weapon systems, the implications of augmenting precision while removing, for all intents and purposes, direct control by or involvement of human beings (‘in the loop’) must be examined, along with differentiated responsibilities of the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’. The present article takes as a foundation the international humanitarian law principle of precaution, as codified in Article 57 of Additional Protocol I, to assess various aspects of the applicability of the relevant provisions to these new weapons systems, and in particular draws conclusions as to how precaution could influence future developments.


robotic weapon systems; armed conflict; humanitarian law

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Copyright (c) 2012 Jonathan David Herbach

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