The use of lethal weapons is centuries old. The oldest automatically triggered lethal weapons are land mines, which have been used since at least the 17th century, while naval mines have been in use since the 18th century. The last two decades of military advancement in lethal weapons, especially Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), can best be described as a revolution in warfare.
Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS) are a type of autonomous military system that can locate and engage targets on their own based on predetermined limitations and descriptions, without any human intervention. LAWS can be used in space, on the ground, in the air, or on the sea. The use of LAWS has diverged from the traditional principles of conventional munitions and expanded the realm of lethal weaponry and delivery technologies. It enhances both the offensive and defensive capabilities of the possessor.
Major advancements under the umbrella of LAWS are taking place around the world. For instance, active defense systems, such as the US Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS), the Israeli Trophy Iron Dome (in which the system consists of three parts: a radar that detects approaching rockets, a command and control system that evaluates the threat level, and an interceptor that tends to destroy an approaching rocket before it strikes), and the Russian Arena, as well as the German AMAP Active Defense System (ADS), are capable of multiple defending and attacking capabilities autonomously.
Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, also warned the world about the severe consequences of these weapon systems. Pakistan has called multiple times for a new international ban treaty on LAWS.
On the other hand, the SGR-Al from Samsung Techwin (South Korea) is a first-of-its-kind robot “sentry gun” with autonomous capabilities. The automated systems available today can defend designated subjects through active protection systems, such as the Norwegian anti-ship and land-attack Naval Strike Missile (NSM), which automatically strikes a ship at its most vulnerable position. The US Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) is the first aircraft with autonomous attack capabilities. Similarly, Israel’s Harop, the United Kingdom’s Taranis, and South Africa’s Rheinmetall Skyshield, all mentioned systems, are entirely self-sufficient in weaponry. These are weapons that can decide for themselves where to be used, what to be used against, how to use them, and the results of their use since they work without meaningful human control.
A recent example of LAWS being a bigger change in modern geopolitical warfare was the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which was concluded early and easily won by Azerbaijan because of the use of LAWS. Israel’s provision of Harop Drones, ballistic missile defense systems, and Stinger Guns to Azerbaijan made war much easier for the victor. According to several reports, Azerbaijan used an Israeli interceptor system to shoot down an Armenian Iskander ballistic missile. While their use of hundreds of Harop Drones caused significant difficulties for Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, ultimately leading to their defeat. The Harop is a kamikaze drone that functions more like a cruise missile in terms of weaponry. It can “loiter,” hence the term “loitering munition,” which refers to the ability to fly around in search of targets before striking. A cruise missile cannot do that.
Using the conflict outlined earlier as an example, it would be damaging if any government used LAWS to its advantage, such as against a country that does not have similar systems. However, there is a global debate on the use of LAWS. Several countries support the weapons’ autonomy, while others have proposed a strict ban, and there are countries that argue that there is nothing wrong with manufacturing them, but using them should be proscribed.
India’s stance on LAWS is clear; its use of LAWS will jeopardize Pakistan in the future. India’s advancement in the LAWS will increase South Asian regional geopolitical instability.
A large number of policymakers, legislators, stakeholders, and international and domestic organizations have repeatedly called for a ban on LAWS. Since 2018, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly told various state representatives that these weapon systems must be proscribed. It is interesting to note that a number of nations, including the U.S., Russia, Turkey, the UK, France, Australia, and South Korea, are currently working on the same project while opposing the prohibition treaty on LAWS. However, along with nearly 30 other nations, Pakistan has argued against outlawing certain weapons systems.
Pakistan has called for a preemptive ban on the development of autonomous weapon systems. They argue that these systems would be unable to adhere to the current laws of war. In May 2013, at the human rights council, Pakistan’s response regarding the LAWS was to “raise complex moral, ethical, and legal dilemmas.” Pakistan became the first nation to call for laws that should be prohibited. Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, also warned the world about the severe consequences of these weapon systems. Pakistan has called multiple times for a new international ban treaty on LAWS.
Pakistan’s harsh rival, India, is one of the countries that is currently working on it. The Indian Army is making significant investments in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapon systems, robotics, and algorithm warfare in an effort to bring its war fighting capabilities up to date. India’s stance on LAWS is clear; its use of LAWS will jeopardize Pakistan in the future. India’s advancement in the LAWS will increase South Asian regional geopolitical instability.
Pakistan should incorporate these technologies and advancements into its defensive system. Pakistan needs to invest in emerging technologies, research, and development to boost its capabilities and maintain its defense against any potential threat.
Pakistan has a complete deterrent to nuclear weapons in the region and is enhancing its military forces. However, in speaking of the LAWS program, Pakistan’s stance is weak and, according to modern geopolitical conditions, Pakistan should adopt these technologies because it could face several problems in the future, such as being subjected to direct LAWS assaults, destruction of its infrastructure, being used in surgical strikes, cross-border terrorism, being the target of important personalities, and more importantly, the blocking of sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). Moreover, Pakistan’s nuclear power sector might need these weapons systems in the future for its invulnerable protection because, without a LAWS program, such weapons systems are significantly more sensitive to being maintained.
Pakistan should incorporate these technologies and advancements into its defensive system. Pakistan needs to develop in proportion to other nations, especially India, an aggressive rival. With respect to LAWS, Pakistan should maintain deterrence throughout the region. With these technologies, Pakistan can prevent international water violations, cross-border interventions, and terrorism, as well as build trust in regional relations.
Despite the various threats mentioned above, Pakistan should maintain that the use of LAWS is restricted as a defensive weapon system only. These weapons should only be used within a state’s own territorial limits, and human control over them should be maintained with a high degree of responsibility and accountability, in accordance with the rules of IHL, IHRL, and other related institutions. LAWS must always be implemented within a state’s frontiers, with no outside interference or deployment allowed. Furthermore, LAWS should not be designed to carry any types of biological or mass destruction weapons (WMDs) and should be restricted as a solely defensive weapon system. It is essential that they are not used for civilian targets.