Richard Jordan


This article draws a parallel between nuclear weapons and the next generation of military technology, autonomous systems. It outlines some legal and ethical dilemmas the latter pose, and in particular aspects of the technology that make it dehumanizing. Autonomous systems share all of these attributes with nuclear weapons. This fact should be encouraging, because the dehumanizing effects of nuclear systems have been overcome. Drawing on the evolution of nuclear strategy and the nuclear taboo, I argue that, in negotiating the legal and ethical dilemmas posed by autonomous weapons systems, the role of international law and of normative entrepreneurs will be primarily one of imagination, not regulation. The first and most important task is to create focal points in popular and elite consciousness. To this end, I make three modest suggestions for normative entrepreneurs: to take political incentives seriously, including the impossibility of abolition or non-use; to first establish simple, guiding ideas accessible to a broad population before turning to finer points of law; and to focus on interstate, rather than transnational, cooperation.



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