Autonomous weapons systems and ethics in International Relations

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The changing nature of warfare in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) poses radically new challenges to international ethics. These challenges articulate a profound worry that autonomous weapons systems (AWS), that is, weapons systems with AI-enhanced capabilities, including the capacity for autonomy in their critical functions, will operate with either limited or no human oversight. How should international ethics respond to these developments? This chapter aims to contribute to the ethics debate on autonomous weapons systems: it surveys and assesses a range of ethical perspectives on AWS, but it also moves beyond the normative parameters of IHL and the just war tradition, which, to date, have dominated the debate. Instead, my discussion foregrounds perspectives drawn from relational ethics and post-humanist ideas, which attend to the ethically fraught entanglements between humans and autonomous systems. As I argue, these approaches can generate new insights into the productive capacities of AWS, especially their impact on human ethical decision-making, whilst also elucidating how subjects constitute themselves as ethical actors vis-à-vis their engagement with AWS. But there is also a need to examine the wider ethico-politics of these near-future weapons systems, including the gendered, racialised, or otherwise stratified frames of war that generate kill-decisions, and that produce, or foreclose, possibilities for ethical response-ability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook to Rethinking Ethics in International Relations
EditorsBirgit Schippers
Place of PublicationOxon
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781315613529
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020


  • artificial intelligence
  • autonomous weapons systems (AWS)
  • ethics
  • international relations

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