skip to main content

Assessing the Legality of Autonomous Weapon Systems: An In-depth Examination of International Humanitarian Law Principles

Ahmad Khalil orcid scopus publons  -  Vellore Institute of Technology School of Law (VITSOL) Vellore Institute of Technology Chennai, India
*S. Anandha Krishna Raj orcid scopus publons  -  Vellore Institute of Technology School of Law (VITSOL) Vellore Institute of Technology Chennai, India
Open Access Copyright 2023 LAW REFORM under

Citation Format:

The use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) to select targets and attack them without human intervention poses a real legal dilemma. What heralds the urgency of the issue is the emergence of some unofficial reports talking about AWS entering the battlefield in recent armed conflicts. Previous literature has been inconclusive on the legitimacy of AWS. This is what prompted us to do this research, which deserves to be investigated in more depth to help reach an international consensus within the international humanitarian law (IHL) framework. The article uses a combination of both doctrinal and non-doctrinal methodology to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. The methodology focuses on analyzing AWS through the perspective of IHL principles because it is the most related law by which the legitimacy of AWS can be assessed. The data collected were secondary and analyzed using quantitative data analysis to shed light on the contradiction between public sentiment and the actual trajectory of AWS development. The results show that military necessity and humanity are two concepts inherent in the true principles of IHL that do not accept measurement or compromise. The article concludes that although artificial intelligence (AI) has not yet reached a threshold that allows reliable deployment of AWS, However, the acceleration of its development indicates that AWS will be able to comply with true IHL principles in the near future.

Fulltext View|Download
Keywords: Autonomous weapon systems; Humanities; International humanitarian law; Military necessity; Principles
Funding: NIL

Article Metrics:

  1. Acquaviva, G. (2021). Daniele Amoroso, Autonomous Weapons Systems and International Law: A Study on Human-Machine Interactions in Ethically and Legally Sensitive Domains. Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol.19, (No.1),pp.227–229.
  2. Alincia, Devi., & Sitabuana, Tundjung Herning. (2021). Urgency of Law Amendment as Foundation of The Implementation of Cyber Notary. LAW REFORM, Vol.17, (No.2), pp.214-231.
  3. Badell, Diego., & Schmitt, Lewin. (2022). Contested views? Tracing European positions on lethal autonomous weapon systems. European Security, Vol.31, (No.2),pp.242-261. DOI: 10.1080/09662839.2021.2007476
  4. Blanchard, Alexander., & Taddeo, Mariarosaria. (2022). Jus In Bello Necessity, The Requirement Of Minimal Force, And Autonomous Weapons Systems. Journal of Military Ethics, Vol.21, (No.3–4), pp.286–303.
  5. Christie, Edward Hunter., Ertan, Amy., Adomaitis, Laurynas., & Klaus, Matthias. (2023). Regulating lethal autonomous weapon systems: exploring the challenges of explainability and traceability. AI and Ethics,pp.1-17. s43681-023-00261-0
  6. Dworkin, Ronald M. (1967). The model of rules. University of Chicago Law Review, Vol.35, (No1),pp.14–46. 1598947
  7. Garcia, D. (2016). Future arms, technologies, and international law: Preventive security governance. European Journal of International Security, Vol.1, (No.1), pp.94-111. DOI: 10.1017/eis.2015.7
  8. Haner, Justin., & Garcia, Denise. (2019). The Artificial Intelligence Arms Race: Trends and world leaders in Autonomous Weapons Development. Global Policy, Vol.10,(No.3),pp.331–337.
  9. Hayir, N. (2022). Defining Weapon Systems with Autonomy: The Critical Functions in Theory and Practice. Groningen Journal of International Law, Vol.9, (No.2), p.27.
  10. Horowitz, Michael C., & Scharre, Paul. (2015). Meaningful Human Control In Weapon Systems: A Primer. Center for a New American Security, p.15.
  11. Leveringhaus, A. (2016). Ethics and the Autonomous Weapons Debate. Ethics and Autonomous Weapons, pp.1–30. https://
  12. Marchant, Emma J. (2020). Insufficient knowledge in Kunduz: The precautionary principle and international humanitarian law. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Vol.25,(No.1),pp.53–79. krz033
  13. McFarland, Tim., & Assaad, Zena. (2023). Legal reviews of in situ learning in autonomous weapons. Ethics and Information Technology,Vol.25,(No.9),pp.1-10. 10.1007/s10676-023-09688-9
  14. McFarland,T. (2023). Autonomous weapon systems and IHL compliance: A constrained legal optimisation problem. Journal of Military Studies,Vol.1(No.1), pp1-10.
  15. Meier, Michael W. (2016). Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (Laws): Conducting a Comprehensive Weapons Review. Temple. International and Comparative Law Journal,Vol.30,(No.1),pp.119-132.
  16. Melzer, N. (2009). Keeping the balance between military necessity and humanity: a response to four critiques of the ICRC's interpretive guidance on the notion of direct participation in hostilities. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics,Vol.42,(No.3),pp.831-916
  17. Melzer, N. (2014). The Principle of Distinction Between Civilians And Combatants. The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict, pp.296–331. DOI: 10.1093/law/9780199559695.003.0012
  18. Mull, Nicholas W. (2018). The Roboticization of Warfare with Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS): Mandate of Humanity or Threat to It. Houston Journal of International Law, Vol.13, (No.40), pp.461-530.
  19. Müller, Vincent C., & Bostrom, Nick. (2016). Future progress in Artificial Intelligence: A survey of expert opinion. Fundamental Issues of Artificial Intelligence, pp.555–572.
  20. Nadibaidze, A. (2022). Great power identity in Russia’s position on autonomous weapons systems. Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.43,(No.3),pp.407-435.
  21. Osbeck, Mark K. (2012). What is "good legal writing" and why does it matter?. Drexel Law Review, Vol.4, (No.2), pp.417-428.
  22. Robinson, Isabel., & Nohle, Ellen. (2016). Proportionality and precautions in attack: The reverberating effects of using explosive weapons in populated areas. International Review of the Red Cross, Vol.98,(No.901),pp.107-145. doi: 10.1017/S1816383116000552
  23. Farhat, Salem Aessa., Nurdin, Rohaida., & Basir, Salawati Bit. (2023). Attacks Against Civilian Objects: An Analysis Under International Humanitarian Law. Hasanuddin Law Review, Vol.8, Issue 1, pp.60–78.
  24. Sayler, Keller M. (2023). Defense primer: US policy on lethal autonomous weapon systems. Congressional Reseach Service, p1-3. product/pdf/IF/IF11150
  25. Schmitt, Michael N. (2012). Autonomous weapon systems and international humanitarian law: a reply to the critics. Harvard National Security Journal Feature, Vol.3, (No.2), p.37.
  26. Sparrow, R. (2016). Robots and respect: Assessing the case against Autonomous Weapon Systems. Ethics and International Affairs,Vol.30,(No.1),pp.93–116. https://doi. org/10.1017/s0892679415000647
  27. Thurnher, Jeffrey S. (2018). Erratum to: Feasible precautions in attack and autonomous weapons. Dehumanization of Warfare, pp.99–117.
  28. Walsh, James I. (2014). Precision Weapons, civilian casualties, and support for the use of Force. Political Psychology, Vol.36, (No.5),pp.507–523. 12175
  29. Watts, Tom F.A., Qiao-Franco, Guangyu., Nadibaidze, Anna., Huelss, Hendrik., & Bode, Ingvild. (2023). Prospects for the global governance of autonomous weapons: comparing Chinese, Russian, and US practices. Ethics and Information Technology,Vol.25,(No.1),pp.1-15
  30. DOI: 10.1007/s10676-023-09678-x
  31. Wilona, Mariska Zena., & Latifah, Emmy., & Purwadi, Hari. (2021). Privacy Policy on Smart Contracts in E-Commerce Transactions. LAW REFORM, Vol.17, (No.1),pp.47-60.
  32. Winaldi, Yuanda., & Setiyono, Joko. (2022). Russian Conflict On Ukraine Based On Humanitarian Law Perspective. LAW REFORM, Vol.18, (No.2), pp.252-263.
  33. Wood, Nathan G. (2020). The problem with Killer Robots. Journal of Military Ethics, Vol.19,(No.3),pp.220–240.
  34. Wood, N. (2022). Autonomous weapons systems and force short of war. Journal of Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Vol.32, (No.2),pp.1-16.
  35. Yusliwidaka, Arnanda., Roisah, Kholis., & Setiyono, J. (2022). The Development of National Law in The Context of The Implementation of International Humanitarian Law. Croatian International Relations Review, Volume XXVII, (89), pp.286-302. DOI: 10.2478/CIRR-2022-0017
  36. Beltran, N. (2020). Artificial Intelligence in Lethal Automated Weapon Systems-What's the Problem? Analysing the framing of LAWS in the EU ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI, the European Parliament Resolution on autonomous weapon systems and the CCW GGE guiding principles. Uppsala University
  37. Perlinski, W. A. (2018). Autonomous Weapons–the “Kalashnikovs” of Tomorrow? An Analysis of the Meetings of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems within the framework of the United Nations' Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. University of Gothenburg
  38. Ólafsson, G. D. (2015). Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Lethal Autonomous Robots under International Humanitarian Law. University of Iceland
  39. Altmann, J. (2019). Autonomous weapon systems–dangers and need for an international prohibition. In KI 2019: Advances in Artificial Intelligence: 42nd German Conference on AI, Kassel, Germany, September 23–26, 2019, Proceedings 42 (pp. 1-17). Springer International Publishing
  40. Bentham, J. (1988). The principles of morals and legislation. New York: Prometheus Books
  41. Dinstein, Y. (2016). The conduct of hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  42. Seixas-Nunes, A. (2022). The legality and accountability of autonomous weapon systems a humanitarian law perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  43. UK Ministry of Defence. (2004). The manual of the law of armed conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  44. Walsh, T. (2018). 2062: The world that AI made. Melbourne: La Trobe University Press
  45. Williams, Andrew., & Scharre, Paul. (2015). Autonomous Systems Issues for Defence Policymakers. Norfolk: NATO Allied Command
  46. Bruun, Laura., Bo, Marta., & Goussac , Netta. (2023). Compliance with International Humanitarian Law in The Development and Use Of Autonomous Weapons Systems: What Does IHL Permit, Prohibit and Require?. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
  47. Dempsey, M. (2020). The hidden detectors looking for guns and knives. Retrieved from 4768
  48. Allied Market Research. (2021). Autonomous Weapons Market Share, growth, analysis by 2030. Retrieved from
  49. Dawes, J. (2023). Killer Robots are the future of warfare and the “inevitable next step” in Russia’s long, Bloody invasion of Ukraine. Retrieved from
  50. Exyn Technologies. (2020). Drone surveying and mapping. Retrieved from https://www.
  51. Ipsos. (2021). Global Survey Highlights Continued Opposition to Fully Autonomous Weapons. Retrieved from.
  52. Russian News Agency. (2020). AI use in controlling weaponry in future will largely determine battle outcome - Putin. TASS. Retrieved from 1237863
  53. UNODA. (2023). Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (laws). United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved from
  54. Wareham, M. (2023). Stopping killer robots. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from
  55. ICRC. (2020). Autonomous Weapon Systems - Q & A. International Committee of the Red Cross. Retrieved from
  56. ICRC. (2016). Autonomous Weapons: Decisions to kill and destroy are a human responsibility. Retrieved from
  57. ICJ. (1996). International Court of Justice. Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1. C.J. Reports 1996, p. 226. Retrieved from
  58. Biontino, M. (2016). Report of the 2016 Informal Meeting of experts on lethal autonomous. Informal Meeting of experts on LAWS. Retrieved from
  59. Estonia. (2018). Estonia Statement at Group of Governmental Experts on Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems’ (Reaching Critical Will, 2018). Retrieved from.
  60. Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907
  61. Protocol Additional I 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949

Last update:

No citation recorded.

Last update: 2024-06-16 18:47:25

No citation recorded.