New Technologies of Warfare: Can international law keep up?

the Finnish Institute of International Affairs · 02.09.2015 10:30 - 12:00

The early 21st century has witnessed a profound technological change in warfare. Computer network operations are ubiquitous. Unmanned combat aerial vehicles have been used extensively in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Palestine. Increased autonomy of weapons systems is on the horizon. Brain-machine interfaces and performance enhancement techniques for soldiers are being explored. The aim of the seminar is to consider these developments and to discuss regulatory challenges. Can international law governing armed conflicts cope with the advances in technology or does it need an update?
Speaker: Rain Liivoja, Senior Lecturer and Branco Weiss Fellow, Melbourne Law School
Rain Liivoja is a Senior Lecturer and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow at Melbourne Law School, where he co-directs the Programme on the Regulation of Emerging Military Technology (PREMT). Rain is also an Affiliated Research Fellow of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki. His research focuses on the regulatory challenges that emerge from the increasing militarisation of neurosciences and other biosciences. Rain is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War, chair of the International Peace and Security Interest Group of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law, and a member of the Australian Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Committee (Victorian Division). Rain holds a doctorate in public international law from the University of Helsinki.
Comments: Pekka Appelqvist, Secretary General of the Scientific Advisory Board for Defense, Finnish Ministry of Defense
Professor Pekka Appelqvist is the Secretary General of the Scientific Advisory Board for Defence (MATINE), a research network organization supporting the R&D&I functions in the Ministry of Defence in Finland. Prior to MoD, he worked in the Finnish Defence Forces, at the Defence Command from 2009 to 2010. Before joining the defence administration, he made an academic career at the Helsinki University of Technology during the years 1994 to 2009. His research interests have mainly concerned autonomous mobile robots and systems; control structures for high levels of autonomy, as well as other enabling technologies for robotics and automation. Applications have varied from multi-robot systems to full scale autonomous ground vehicles and underwater solutions.
Chair: Katja Creutz, Senior Research Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Summary of the seminar:

Katja Creutz, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, introduced the topic of the seminar by sharing two recent news pieces on robotics; one reporting of a robot having killed a man at a Volkswagen factory and the other introducing a MIT students’ robot project. She remarked that in the recent years we have witnessed extensive development in technology.

Rain Liivoja, Senior Lecturer and Branco Weiss Fellow in Melbourne Law School presented several technological fields armed forces around the world are interested in, as well as the view international law has on them. According to Dr Liivoja, the nature of warfare has developed several times in history, but what is currently significant is that there are multiple scientific developments happening at the same time, which creates great pressure on legal development.

Dr Liivoja first raised the issue of cyber warfare, about which there has been a lot of discussion especially after the cyber-attacks on Estonia and during the conflict of Russia and Georgia. Dr Liivoja remarked that the applicability of the law is one of the main problems of regulating cyber warfare, especially when the effects are not similar to traditional warfare. Significant questions are whether manipulation of data can be considered an attack or an act of violence, and whether data should be looked as a civilian object in need of protection, or a military object. Dr Liivoja highlighted the fact that nothing in the letter of law supposes that military objects should be physical items, and stated that the dominating opinion that only the device running the data needs protection is very old fashioned, especially in the light of the recent development of intellectual property and the value of data.

Moving on to robotics, Dr Liivoja reminded that most cyber-attacks are made against robotics systems. Much of the legal and ethical discussion revolves around remotely controlled weapons, especially drones, and around certain strikes. According to him, the same questions on targeting decisions and damage caused to civilians apply to other weapons as well. Dr Liivoja pointed out that the most common legal issues with remotely controlled weapons are the military of civilian status of the operator, and whether the law of armed conflict applies in every situation the drones are used in. Concerning systems capable of operating autonomously without human supervising, Dr Liivoja referred to the issues of attribution and accountability. Should a machine be put in a situation it can kill someone without control, and if the system operates without direct control, who is responsible of the misconduct? He raised also the issue of occupation; whether it is eventually possible to occupy enemy territory without any boots on the ground?

Dr Liivoja also touched upon the issue of biotechnology and the difference between treating illness and enhancing the capabilities of human beings. Medical personnel at the armed forces cannot be attacked as they are engaged in humanitarian work. Some armed forces however allow the use of stimulants in some branches of the forces, which raise the matter of the position of the medical personnel handing out stimulants.

Dr Liivoja concluded that in some circumstances new law and arms control would be necessary, but there is also a danger in absolute bans. While some of the new technologies make it all the more important to review their lawfulness before they are used, many new kinds of warfare introduced have not been particularly problematic and can be considered only a slight further development. Dr Liivoja also noted that at some point it might become necessary to reinterpret the law to accommodate the current situation better.

In his comments to Dr Liivoja’s presentation, Pekka Appelqvist, <spanclass=”a2″ style=”color: rgb(0, 0, 0);”>, Secretary General of the Scientific Advisory Board for Defense at the Finnish Ministry of Defense, focused on the problematics of arms bans and isolating certain technical devices from their military use. Dr Appelqvist remarked that basically the development of weapons is a question of gaining advantage and superiority by better effectivity, efficiency and protection. He reminded that although arms control rules are context sensitive, certain weapon types are commonly banned as they are considered too effective, efficient and inhumane in every situation.

Dr Appelqvist stated, that devices with only weapons use are easier to isolate and ban, but the complexity of systems and possible dual uses make it harder to introduce device-based bans. He also brought up the increasing possibilities of garage-scaled production of technologies and devices. Dr Appelqvist also assessed the human role in the systems and reminded that already in many existing military systems the soldier is only needed to press the button. He concluded his comments with a remark that the interconnectedness of technologies has created a situation where there is always a certain presence of networks and distribution, which makes it increasingly harder to isolate individual technologies.

The floor was then opened for questions and comments.