Autonomous Weapons Systems

Increasing numbers of autonomous weapons (robotic weapons, including drones) will be used on the battlefield over the next century. Just as humanists raised concerns when land mines, airplanes, submarines, and nuclear weapons were first introduced on the battlefield, their successors are voicing concerns about the control and use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS), with some even raising the specter of “terminators” running amok.  

In a forthcoming article in the Journal of National Security Law & Policy, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Toscano, LLM ‘14, responds that mankind’s inability to live at peace has always led to the development of enhanced weapons and strategies to defeat one’s adversaries more effectively. Instead of shunning AWS, he says, we should welcome them as weapons that can perform war-fighting functions compliant with international humanitarian law norms more effectively than humans, thus reducing the risk of unintended harm.

Lt. Cmdr. Toscano developed this topic under the direction of Federal Circuit Judge Evan Wallach, with assistance from Karen Da Ponte Thornton, associate professor of legal research and writing and coordinator of the Scholarly Writing Program, and Professor Peter Raven-Hansen, who co-directs the LLM program. This coming year, Lt. Cmdr. Toscano will serve as the staff judge advocate to the commander, Carrier Strike Group 11, embarked on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the forthcoming article are those of the author and not necessarily reflective of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.