Evaluating Autonomous Weapons Systems: A Dichotomic Lens of Military Value Accountability

L. Drake, Emily

In Part I, this Note will explain that autonomy is a spectrum, not a categorical condition. AWSs exist at various points along that spectrum. These machines can—and do—make mistakes resulting in accidental or improper loss of life. It will also outline the principle of proportionality and its dichotomous structure within international humanitarian law (“IHL”). Finally, Part I will establish the importance of accountability and responsibility in the legal system. In Part II, this Note will demonstrate how, due to the increasingly autonomous nature of these weapons, it becomes correspondingly more difficult to assign individual responsibility when these weapons malfunction. Finally, Part III will propose that in an analogical balance to proportionality, the legality assessment of AWSs should be to compare the increasingly autonomous nature of the weapons to the decreasing possibility of assigning responsibility for errors. This Note will conclude that if a finite point cannot be determined where the decreasing possibility of assigning responsibility outweighs the likelihood of the machine functioning as intended, then there must be a ban implemented against exploration into AWSs until that point of limitation can be adequately and clearly defined.


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Columbia Human Rights Law Review

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May 5, 2022