International humanitarian law-making and new military technologies

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Military technology has developed rapidly in recent years, and this development challenges existing norms. It has produced countless debates about the application of international humanitarian law (IHL) to areas of war and technology including cyber military operations, military artificial intelligence (including autonomous weapons), the use of drones, and military human enhancement. Despite these rapid progressions, the prospect of creating new treaties to specifically regulate their use by militaries and in armed conflicts is very low. This is largely due to the unequal allocation of military technology among States and the differing interests that result from this inequality. The absence of formal regulation means that State and non-State actors are increasingly embracing informal means of law-making. This is similar to other areas of IHL, such as the regulation of asymmetric conflicts, where norms are contested. In such cases, State and non-State actors employ various informal law-making techniques to advance their normative positions through treaty interpretation and the identification of customary international law. However, the discussion on military technology differs from other contemporary IHL debates. First, due to the rapid development of such technology and uncertainty about how it will be employed in practice, the interests of the various actors are less clear. Second, there are significant challenges in obtaining accurate information about new military technologies. This makes even the informal law-making path in the context of new technologies more challenging. This paper explores the dynamics of contemporary international law-making as it relates to the regulation of new military technologies. It identifies the main techniques that are used by the relevant actors and explores the common themes among the various debates over military technology, as well as the potential specific challenges in relation to certain technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2131-2152
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Review of the Red Cross
Issue number920-921
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • IHL
  • autonomous weapons
  • cyber
  • law-making
  • military technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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