Future Weapons, Past Laws

Document Type


Publication Date

February 2012

Conference / Event Title

2012 Santa Clara Journal of International Law Symposium: Emerging Issues in International Humanitarian Law


2012 Santa Clara Journal of International Law Symposium: Emerging Issues in International Humanitarian Law, hosted by Santa Clara University School of LawThe laws governing armed conflicts—both those attempting to regulate the legality of going to war (jus ad bellum) and the rules pertaining to the conduct of warfare (jus in bello)—have seen changes and modifications in reaction to shifts in the nature of warfare, in general, and the introduction of new technologies of communication, transportation, manufacturing and destruction, in particular.Yet, all too often such changes and adaptations, to the extent they emerge, are backward rather than forward looking. Nowhere is this discrepancy more glaring than in the virtual lack of legal attention and discussion, not to say regulation, of emerging technologies of warfare. Whereas technological innovations have been a continuous feature of war-making, we are now witnessing what may be described as a potential game-changing, paradigm shift in the ways wars are fought. Such dramatic changes must be reckoned with and thought about. To give but one example, much proverbial ink has been spilled in the last couple of years to discuss the legality of drone attacks by the United States in combat zones such as Afghanistan as well as in areas outside the zone of operations, most notably Pakistan. Drones attract much attention because of the fact that they are 'unmanned' aerial vehicles. Yet to a significant extent, even drones involve a significant human input in the decision-making process leading to the "taking out" of an identified target. Indeed, drones are 'remotely piloted.' At the same time, it is obvious that in the near future technology will reach a stage of advancement which will no longer require any sort of human input once the weapon is introduced into the battlefield. Indeed, this is arguably already the case with respect to certain weapons systems.

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