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Research Report

In, On, or Out of the Loop?: Denmark and Autonomous Weapon Systems

Gary Schaub
Jens Wenzel Kristoffersen
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2017
Pages: 45
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-3)

    The ability of machines to act in the absence of human control has increased dramatically over the course of the past decade. Machines can increasingly sense their environment, discriminate between aspects of it, determine behaviour based on these sensory inputs, and act without human involvement. The use of such machines in public and private, civilian and military activities raises significant practical, political, policy, commercial, industrial, ethical, moral, and legal issues. This is especially the case with machines that autonomously facilitate or conduct violence – i.e., weapon systems. This trend therefore impacts military affairs as well as other areas of human...

  2. (pp. 4-12)

    This section of the report reviews the definitions of autonomous weapons used by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), the American Department of Defense (DoD), NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT), the United Nations (UN), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Danish MoD. After noting their areas of agreement and difference, we address three key dimensions that impact on the degree of “autonomy” extant in any weapon system: the degree of complexity with which it can behave without direct human control, the relation of the human operator to the machine, and when the instructions that guide its...

  3. (pp. 13-17)

    In this third section of the report we discuss some of the weapons in the arsenals of the United States, United Kingdom, and Denmark that are able to function with some degree of autonomy. We do so in the context of a survey of officers and officials in the Danish MoD, Defence Command, and the Danish Acquisitions and Logistics Organisation that was conducted for this report to better understand the capabilities of weapon systems in the Danish arsenal. Drawing on their responses, we discuss the autonomous functionality of some of the weapons used by the Danish armed forces.

    As discussed...

  4. (pp. 18-22)

    The fourth section of the report addresses the concept of meaningful human control. First, we establish that concerns have been raised about the increasing distance in time and space between human operators and weapon systems and that this distance has separated the concept of direct human control from that of meaningful human control. We then discuss two conceptions of meaningful human control that have been intended to provide a basis for ensuring that weapon systems with autonomous functions can be used in ways that are compatible with extant legal, ethical, and moral frameworks that guide the use of force.


  5. (pp. 23-25)

    Denmark currently has no overarching policy toward weapon systems with autonomous functions that is comparable to those of the United States or the United Kingdom. Few statements of policy have been made publicly. Those that have, such as the definition of autonomous systems contained in the new military manual and Ambassador Hækkerup’s focus on the meaningful human control of such systems, are not necessarily synchronous. Nor have structures, processes, or procedures for ensuring the exercise of meaningful human control been elaborated within the Danish armed forces. Although the lack of a policy is merely a situation until it is defined...

  6. (pp. 26-26)

    Human beings have engaged in organised conflict with one another for millennia. Man’s ingenuity in developing tools that can be used for violence demanded the development of norms, rules, laws, and institutions to restrain and channel their ever-increasing range, speed, and destructive capacity. The increasing lethality of the battlefield has also driven developments to remove combatants from harm’s way. The increasingly frequent and effective use of unmanned aerial vehicles by Western states over the past 25 years has likely been only a precursor to further developments.65 Technological and strategic trends indicate that weapon systems with autonomous functions will be developed,...