Readings: Alan Backstrom and Ian Henderson on New Capabilities in Warfare and Legal Weapons Reviews

By Kenneth Anderson
Monday, January 28, 2013, 12:15 PM

Alan Backstrom and Ian Henderson have a new draft working paper at SSRN, "New Capabilities in warfare: an overview of contemporary technological developments and the associated legal and engineering issues in article 36 weapons reviews" (International Review of the Red Cross, forthcoming).  Backstrom is an engineer, and Henderson is the well-known author of a major treatise on targeting law, The Contemporary Law of Targeting: Military Objectives, Proportionality and Precautions in Attack under Additional Protocol I (Martinus Nijhoff 2009).  This draft paper does an excellent job walking through the issues raised by many emerging weapon technologies - included automated and autonomous weapons, directed energy weapons, cyber operations, and nanotechnology and the weaponization of neurobiology. The analysis gives a close walk through the requirements of weapons review.  But its overall point is to emphasize that weapons need to be examined as whole systems, in an interdisciplinary fashion, and in particular the engineers and lawyers need to understand what the other is doing and saying, throughout the design and development process from the beginning to the end.  Here is the SSRN abstract:

The increasing complexity of weapon systems requires an interdisciplinary approach to the conduct of weapon reviews. Developers need to be aware of international humanitarian law principles that apply to the employment of weapons. Lawyers need to be aware of how a weapon will be operationally employed and use this knowledge to help formulate meaningful operational guidelines in light of any technological issues identified in relation to international humanitarian law. As the details of a weapon’s capability are often highly classified and compartmentalised, lawyers, engineers and operators need to work cooperatively and imaginatively to overcome security classification and compartmental access limitations.