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Killer Robots and the Laws of War

Authors: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, and Kenneth Anderson
November 3, 2013
Wall Street Journal


With each new drone strike by the United States military, anger over the program mounts. On Friday, in one of the most significant U.S. strikes, a drone killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in the lawless North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. Coming as Pakistan is preparing for peace talks with the Taliban, the attack on this major terrorist stirred outrage in Pakistan and was denounced by the country's interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who said the U.S. had "murdered the hope and progress for peace in the region."

Recent reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also challenged the legality of drone strikes. The protests reflect a general unease in many quarters with the increasingly computerized nature of waging war. Looking well beyond today's drones, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations—the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots—is lobbying for an international treaty to ban the development and use of "fully autonomous weapons."

Computerized weapons capable of killing people sound like something from a dystopian film. So it's understandable why some, scared of the moral challenges such weapons present, would support a ban as the safest policy. In fact, a ban is unnecessary and dangerous.

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