Category Archives: Remote Targeting

Command Responsibility: A Model for Defining Meaningful Human Control

In the relatively near future, the United States and other countries are likely to develop varying levels of artificial intelligence (AI) and integrate it into autonomous weapons. There are significant voices, spearheaded by The Campaign to Ban Killer Robots, advocating for a preemptive ban on these weapons.

The opponents of lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) argue that it is unethical to allow a machine to decide when to kill and that AI will never be able to adhere to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) obligations. These opposition campaigns have led to discussions in the international community about developing a legal framework for LAWS. While a requirement for meaningful human control (MHC) has gained traction within certain UN bodies, the United States has objected to the use of the standard, arguing that such an ambiguous standard would further obscure the challenges posed by LAWS.

Maj. Matthew Miller’s article seeks to provide a solution to the ambiguity of MHC and provide a workable definition of the standard. Miller reviews the ways humans can interact with autonomous systems, examining the ways humans are placed in a system’s decision loop, and relevant provisions of IHL to LAWS. Miller ultimately uses the lens of command responsibility to demonstrate how MHC can be applied to the design and use of LAWS, ultimately concluding that this method can address concerns that the use of LAWS will prevent accountability for IHL violations.

Dawn of the Intercontinental Sniper: The Drone’s Cascading Contribution to the Modern Battlefield’s Complexity

Stephen L. Schooner and Nathaniel E. Castellano review Richard Whittle’s Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. The authors highlight the cast of quirky characters that drive the narrative element of Whittle’s book while recounting the ethical dilemmas, national security issues, and bureaucratic challenges that attend one of the nation’s most successful weapons development programs. The authors conclude with an enthusiastic endorsement of the book regardless of the reader’s expertise in military affairs.

“Friend of Humans”: An Argument for Developing Autonomous Weapons Systems

Toscano reviews the state of autonomous robotic technology on the modern battlefield, in both its current and anticipated instances. He suggests that existing legal frameworks in international humanitarian law and the laws of war are equipped to deal with this novel form of weaponry.

“On Target”: Precision & Balance in the Contemporary Law of Targeting

Schmitt and Widmar explore the law of targeting within international humanitarian law (IHL) and its application to international and non-international armed conflict. The article examines the “five elements” of a target operation, including the target, the weapon used, the execution of the attack, possible collateral damage and incidental injury, and location of the strike. The authors suggest that a better understanding of these norms can help international lawyers, policymakers, and operators avoid violations of international law by creating appropriate and well-known boundaries for targeting operations.

Shadow Wars

Those of us who remember the 1980s lived through the Iran-Contra Affair and its labyrinth of arms-for-hostages deals, secret transfers of U.S. government funds, backdoor support for the Nicaraguan Contras after Congress cut off funding, and the duplicity of Reagan administration officials who tried to hide and then cover up what they were doing. Some of us even recall the covert war in Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s where the U.S. military, the CIA, and various paramilitaries pursued Communist forces in campaigns that were common knowledge in the region but kept secret from Congress and the American people. A few seasoned chroniclers of our national security are even able to remember earlier secret support for paramilitary forces, coup attempts, and a plethora of covert operations that were undertaken by the United States as an adjunct to its Cold War with the Soviet Union.

In the post-9/11 environment, the United States confronted the Taliban, al Qaeda, and associated terrorist and insurgent groups, where the conventional military force that quickly forced Iraq’s retreat from Kuwait and subdued the Milosevic regime in Kosovo in the 1990s was far less effective. Paramilitary campaigns waged by the CIA and contractors became an integral part of the counterterrorism response to these new enemies, and our military greatly expanded its own capabilities to collect intelligence and carry out clandestine operations. Over time, first in the Bush administration and now in an expanded and more aggressive strategy by the Obama administration, the United States has been conducting what The New York Times described as a “shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies”:

In roughly a dozen countries – from the deserts of North Africa, to
the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by
ethnic and religious strife – the United States has significantly
increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy
using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to
spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.