Does the principle of significant human control solves the autonomous weapons liability gap?


  • Justas Sapetka



Autonomous weapons, international humanitarian law, accountability gap, meaningful human control


Autonomous weapons are a new generation of weapons, and their development will lead to revolution in the field of military technology. Whether this revolution will be implemented depends on people's determination about the future of autonomous weapons, i. e. the development, restriction, suspension or total prohibition of these technologies. International decision and an unified policy choice should be implemented before the snowball effect occurs. In other words, it will be difficult for states to agree on the development or limitation of these technologies if the most powerful militaries in the world, or at least one of them develops autonomous weapons and has the opportunity to deploy them in armed conflicts.

The need for development of autonomous weapons arises from comparing their advantages with conventional weapons. Autonomous weapons can reduce the number of victims and people injured in armed conflict and should help preserve property that is destroyed as a result of an inaccurately calculated attack. While these weapons may provide an advantage in warfare, they pose unprecedented challenges in legal and moral terms. One of the main ones is the emergence of an accountability gap. When an autonomous weapon acts in violation of international humanitarian law, it may be difficult to identify the entity responsible. In the light of the above, the article seeks to answer the question of whether the principle of meaningful human control solves the accountability gap for autonomous weapons.

Examining the issue, first of all paper analyzes the need to apply personal accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law, i. e. war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In the following, article discusses one of the purposes of criminal law punishment, elements of the crime (actus reus and mens rea) and the execution of these elements if the actions of the autonomous weapon are contrary to international humanitarian law. Further paper presents problem of accountability gap posed by autonomous weapons.

After revealing accountability gap issue, the importance of the principle (concept) of meaningful human control is discussed. The article identifies two main assumptions that necessitate application of the concept to autonomous weapons, explains the diversity of the principle, presents different approaches of states and non-governmental organization to the concept, also refers its main components.

Finally, based on the statements of CCW members and the insights of researchers, article identifies that military commander is responsible for the implementation of the principle of meaningful human control over autonomous weapons. Hereafter paper explains the forms of responsibility of the commander, i. e. the direct responsibility and the doctrine of command responsibility. In the following, article presents arguments and counter-arguments in order to apply commander's direct responsibility for a violation of international humanitarian law by an autonomous weapon. Paper also specifies the requirements for accountability under the doctrine of command responsibility, identifies difficulties and solutions to apply this form of accountability in the event of law infringement by an autonomous weapon. After analyzing mentioned factors, article concludes that principle of meaningful human control can solve accountability gap for autonomous weapons.


Download data is not yet available.



How to Cite

Sapetka, J. (2021). Does the principle of significant human control solves the autonomous weapons liability gap?. Law Review, 2(22), 106–123.