Weapon Bans

The Killer Robots Are Here: Legal and Policy Implications

36 Cardozo L. Rev. 1837 (2015)

Notwithstanding increasing state interest in the issue, no one has yet put forward a coherent legal definition of autonomy in weapon systems, resulting in a confusing conflation of legal, ethical, policy, and political arguments. This article proposes that an “autonomous weapon system” be defined as “a weapon system that, based on conclusions derived from gathered information and preprogrammed constraints, is capable of independently selecting and engaging targets.” Contrary to the general consensus, such systems are not weapons of the future: they exist and are in use today.

This fact has two main implications: it undermines almost all legal arguments for a ban, as they are based on the false assumption that such weaponry could never be lawfully employed; and it significantly reduces the likelihood that a successful ban will be negotiated, as states will be reluctant to voluntarily relinquish otherwise lawful and uniquely effective weaponry. Accordingly, this article concludes with a discussion of how best to create successful international regulations.