As someone who dabbled in international law in his youth (and once roomed with the leading expert on the law of war), as well as an avid amateur military historian and Army brat, I retain an interest in international law and the use of force. Today's WSJ contains a fascinating article, co-authored by friend of the blog Kenneth Anderson, on the evolving laws of war governing autonomous military machines:
If the past decade of the U.S. drone program has taught us anything, it's that it is crucial to engage the public about new types of weapons and the legal constraints on their design and use. The U.S. government's lack of early transparency about its drone program has made it difficult to defend, even when the alternatives would be less humane. Washington must recognize the strategic imperative to demonstrate new weapons' adherence to high legal and ethical standards.
This approach will not work if the U.S. goes it alone. America should gather a coalition of like-minded partners to adapt existing international legal standards and develop best practices for applying them to autonomous weapons. The British government, for example, has declared its opposition to a treaty ban on autonomous weapons but is urging responsible states to develop common standards for the weapons' use within the laws of war.
Autonomous weapons are not inherently unlawful or unethical. If we adapt legal and ethical norms to address robotic weapons, they can be used responsibly and effectively on the battlefield.