Dehumanization: Is There a Legal Problem Under Article 36?

  • William BoothbyEmail author


While remote attack, whether using remote piloting, autonomous attack technology or cyber techniques, does not per se raise legal issues, there is a clear ethical dimension. People are nevertheless closely involved, fulfilling various critical roles. All forms of mechanical learning associated with attack technologies are not unacceptable. Consider, for example, learning methods integrated into a weapon system that are designed to increase or ensure victim protection. Ethical concerns will, however, persist and will be associated with concerns that machines should not be permitted to decide who is to be attacked and who is to be spared. Zero casualty warfare is not as such unlawful. Customary and treaty rules of weapons law apply to these weapon technologies including the obligation for states to undertake weapon reviews. The Chapter summarises these customary and treaty rules and notes that reviewing autonomous weapon technologies will involve an assessment of whether the weapon system is capable of undertaking the decision-making that targeting law requires, and to which reference is made in the Chapter.


  1. Akerson D (2013) The illegality of offensive lethal autonomy. In: Saxon D (ed) International humanitarian law and the changing technology of war. Nijhoff, Leiden, pp 65–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson K, Waxman M (2013) Law and ethics for autonomous weapon systems: why a ban won’t work and how the laws of war can. Hoover Institution, Stanford University. // Accessed 13 Dec 2015Google Scholar
  3. Backstrom A, Henderson I (2012) New capabilities in warfare: an overview of contemporary technological developments and the associated legal and engineering issues in Article 36 weapons reviews. IRRC 94:483–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boothby WH (2009) Weapons and the law of armed conflict. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Broad WJ, Markoff J, Sanger DE (15 Jan 2011) Israeli test on worm called crucial in Iran nuclear delay. In: The New York Times. Accessed 13 Dec 2016
  6. The Daily Telegraph (25 Feb 2013) Israel stages test flight of arrow 3 missile defence. Accessed 13 Dec 2016
  7. Daoust I, Coupland R, Ishoey R (2002) New wars, new weapons? The obligation of states to assess the legality of means and methods of warfare. IRRC 846:345–363Google Scholar
  8. Dinstein Y (2010) The conduct of hostilities under the law of international armed conflict, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Droege C (2012) Get off my cloud: cyber warfare, international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians. IRRC 94:533–578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fenrick WJ (1990) The conventional weapons convention: a modest but useful treaty. IRRC 279:498–509Google Scholar
  11. Fidler DP (2005) The meaning of Moscow: ‘Non-Lethal’ weapons and international law in the 21st century. IRRC 87:525–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fildes J (23 Sept 2010) Stuxnet worm attacked high value Iranian assets. In: BBC News. Accessed 13 Dec 2015
  13. Haines S (2012) The nature of war and the character of contemporary armed conflict. In: Wilmshurst E (ed) International law and the classification of conflicts. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 9, 11Google Scholar
  14. Hays Parks W (2005) Conventional weapons and weapon reviews. YIHL 8:55–142. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hays Parks W (2006) Means and methods of warfare, symposium in honour of Edward R Cummings. GWIR 38:511–542Google Scholar
  16. Henckaerts J-M, Doswald-Beck L (eds) (2004) Customary international humanitarian law, vol. I: rules. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Homer, Illiad, 13.262-3Google Scholar
  18. Lewis M et al (2009) Scaling up wide-area-search munition teams. IEEE Intell Syst 24(3):10–13. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McClelland J (2003) The review of weapons in accordance with Article 36 of additional protocol 1. IRRC 85(850):397–420Google Scholar
  20. O’Connell RL (1989) Of arms and men: a history of war, weapons and aggression. Oxford Paperbacks, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Oeter S (2013) Methods and means of combat. In: Fleck D (ed) The handbook of international humanitarian law, 3rd edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 115–230Google Scholar
  22. Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) (2010) The HPCR manual on international law applicable to air and missile warfare (AMW Manual). Harvard University, Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Rapporteur’s Report CDDH/215/Rev.1 paragraph 27 reported in ICRC Commentary, paragraph 1454Google Scholar
  24. Richmond J (2012) Evolving battlefields: does STUXNET demonstrate a need for modifications in the law of armed conflict? Fordham Int Law J 35:842–894Google Scholar
  25. Rowe PJ (1987) Defence. The legal implications. Brassey’s Defence Publ., LondonGoogle Scholar
  26. Schachtman N (28 Sept 2011) Army tracking plan: drones that never forget a face, available at Accessed 13 Dec 2016
  27. Schmitt MN (2011) Cyber operations and the jus in bello: key issues. Int Law Stud 87:89–110Google Scholar
  28. Schmitt MN, Thurnher J (2013) ‘Out of the loop’: autonomous weapon systems and the law of armed conflict. Harv Natl Secur J 4:231–281Google Scholar
  29. Schmitt MN (ed) (2013) Tallinn manual on the international law applicable to cyberwarfare. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. Scobbie I (2012) Gaza. In: Wilmshurst E (ed) International law and the classification of conflicts. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 280–316Google Scholar
  31. Singer PW (2011) Robots at war: the new battlefield. In: Strachan H, Scheipers S (eds) The changing character of war. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 333–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Solis GD (2011) The law of armed conflict. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Sparrow R (2007) Killer robots. J Appl Philos 24(1):62–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. UK Ministry of Defence (13 Nov 2007) DCDC, Future maritime operational concept 2007Google Scholar
  35. UK Ministry of Defence (2010) Legal support to joint operations. Ministry of Defence Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, JDP 3-46 dated August 2010Google Scholar
  36. UK Ministry of Defence (2004) Manual on the law of armed conflict (UK Manual)Google Scholar
  37. University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report (Oct 2014) The security impact of drones: challenges and opportunities for the UK. Accessed 13 Dec 2016
  38. Wagner M (2011) Taking humans out of the loop: implications for international humanitarian law. J Law Inform Sci 11:1–11Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geneva Centre for Security PolicyGenevaSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations