Drones and autonomous weapons systems (AWS) are fundamentally changing the battlefield environment. This has created a revolution in military affairs by enabling greater territorial extension of power with reduced personnel battlefield presence and overall mission cost. Existing weapons technology already has, or has the potential to have, the ability to autonomously engage human targets with lethal force independent of direct human control. The authors of this Jr. Fellows policy brief posit that since developers of AWS are not conducting adequate legal review in the development process, as is required by International Humanitarian Law, use and development of AWS may be in breach of international law, posing great risks to peace and security. They recommend that an international convention be created within the United Nations for the control and selective prohibition of certain drone and AWS technology development and use. The convention should provide a forum for communication and knowledge sharing between stakeholders, the scientific community and legal experts. The brief concludes that such a universal forum can ensure that these technologies are developed and used in adherence with existing laws and ethical traditions.

The CIGI Junior Fellows program at the Balsillie School of International Affairs provides masters level students with mentorship opportunities from senior scholars and policy makers. Working under the direction of a project leader, each junior fellow conducts research in one of CIGI’s program areas. This series presents those policy briefs that met CIGI’s publications standards.