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The Law of (Future) Armed Conflict: LOAC, Technology, and the Changing Character of Warfare

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The Law of (Future) Armed Conflict: LOAC, Technology, and the Changing Character of Warfare

Robert Lawless | September 10, 2020
The Law of (Future) Armed Conflict: LOAC, Technology, and the Changing Character of Warfare

Can the law of armed conflict—a sometimes nebulous body of international law developed incrementally over centuries through both custom and treaty—keep up with the unprecedented pace of development in military technology and weaponry? Reports that may seem like science fiction detailing technological breakthroughs are all around us. Global powers are infiltrating the civilian electrical power grids and other critical infrastructure of potential adversaries, perhaps in part to prepare opportunities to deploy cyber weapons in a future armed conflict. Artificial intelligence algorithms designed to engage in air warfare have begun competing with, and perhaps one day will surpass, human military pilots. Weapons that have existed for decades are rapidly developing more effective capabilities, for example, missiles that travel far faster than sound and thus perhaps require defense systems that detect and respond more quickly than humans.

For the law of armed conflict, or LOAC, to remain operationally relevant and effective in its purpose, military leaders must be thoughtful about how the law will apply to these new weapons and capabilities. For example, consider the context of a missile defense system designed to use AI to detect and respond to hypersonic missile attacks. Many potential legal issues arise in this example. To examine just one, the use of such a system must comply with the LOAC’s foundational principle of distinction, which requires the parties to an armed conflict to “distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly [may] direct their operations only against military objectives.” Implicit in this obligation is the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks, which includes, among other things, attacks that are incapable of being directed at a specific military objective.

https://mwi.usma.edu/the-law-of-future-armed-conflict-loac-technology-and-the-changing-character-of-warfare/

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