The Automation and Proliferation of Military Drones and the Protection of Civilians

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The post 9/11 and Gaza conflicts have created a dramatic increase in the use of remotely piloted armed drones. Although there is currently a "man-in-the-loop" for all lethal targeting operations, that role is set to shrink rapidly as more autonomous operation becomes available. Current autonomous robots cannot discriminate between combatant and non-combatant targets, do not have battlefield awareness, cannot reason appropriately or make proportionality decisions. We point to the dangers of relying on future technological fixes. With over 50 countries now buying and developing the technology, autonomous armed drones could become dominant in future war. We examine the impact in relation to International Humanitarian Law. Military necessity is considered as a possible way to allow the new indiscriminate weapons to be deployed. Finally, the paper examines concerns about drone attacks being considered to be actions short of warfare.
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