Essay series introduced by Bessma Momani, Aaron Shull and Jean-François Bélanger: “…begins with a piece written by Alex Wilner titled “AI and the Future of Deterrence: Promises and Pitfalls.” Wilner looks at the issue of deterrence and provides an account of the various ways AI may impact our understanding and framing of deterrence theory and its practice in the coming decades. He discusses how different countries have expressed diverging views over the degree of AI autonomy that should be permitted in a conflict situation — as those more willing to cut humans out of the decision-making loop could gain a strategic advantage. Wilner’s essay emphasizes that differences in states’ technological capability are large, and this will hinder interoperability among allies, while diverging views on regulation and ethical standards make global governance efforts even more challenging.
Looking to the future of non-state use of drones as an example, the weapon technology transfer from nation-state to non-state actors can help us to understand how next-generation technologies may also slip into the hands of unsavoury characters such as terrorists, criminal gangs or militant groups. The effectiveness of Ukrainian drone strikes against the much larger Russian army should serve as a warning to Western militaries, suggests James Rogers in his essay “The Third Drone Age: Visions Out to 2040.” This is a technology that can level the field by asymmetrically advantaging conventionally weaker forces. The increased diffusion of drone technology enhances the likelihood that future wars will also be drone wars, whether these drones are autonomous systems or not. This technology, in the hands of non-state actors, implies future Western missions against, say, insurgent or guerilla forces will be more difficult.
Data is the fuel that powers AI and the broader digital transformation of war. In her essay “Civilian Data in Cyber Conflict: Legal and Geostrategic Considerations,” Eleonore Pauwels discusses how offensive cyber operations are aiming to alter the very data sets of other actors to undermine adversaries — whether through targeting centralized biometric facilities or individuals’ DNA sequence in genomic analysis databases, or injecting fallacious data into satellite imagery used in situational awareness. Drawing on the implications of international humanitarian law, Pauwels argues that adversarial data manipulation constitutes another form of “grey zone” operation that falls below a threshold of armed conflict. She evaluates the challenges associated with adversarial data manipulation, given that there is no internationally agreed upon definition of what constitutes cyberattacks or cyber hostilities within international humanitarian law (IHL).
In “AI and the Actual International Humanitarian Law Accountability Gap,” Rebecca Crootoff argues that technologies can complicate legal analysis by introducing geographic, temporal and agency distance between a human’s decision and its effects. This makes it more difficult to hold an individual or state accountable for unlawful harmful acts. But in addition to this added complexity surrounding legal accountability, novel military technologies are bringing an existing accountability gap in IHL into sharper focus: the relative lack of legal accountability for unintended civilian harm. These unintentional acts can be catastrophic, but technically within the confines of international law, which highlights the need for new accountability mechanisms to better protect civilians.
Some assert that the deployment of autonomous weapon systems can strengthen compliance with IHL by limiting the kinetic devastation of collateral damage, but AI’s fragility and apparent capacity to behave in unexpected ways poses new and unexpected risks. In “Autonomous Weapons: The False Promise of Civilian Protection,” Branka Marijan opines that AI will likely not surpass human judgment for many decades, if ever, suggesting that there need to be regulations mandating a certain level of human control over weapon systems. The export of weapon systems to states willing to deploy them on a looser chain-of-command leash should be monitored…(More)”.