Emerging Military Technologies - New Normative Challenges

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.


13 - 15 Nov 2013


PRIO, Hausmanns gate 7, Oslo


Greg Reichberg


For participation and approved essay: 5 ECTS


Kristoffer Lidén


Nic Marsh, Greg Reichberg, Kristin B. Sandvik, Henrik Syse – (PRIO); Heather Harrison Dinniss (Swedish National Defense College) and Simon O’Conner (Norwegian Red Cross).

​​​​​New military technologies have traditionally been met with some skepticism from ethicists and many lawyers. At the same time, new technology is often a driver of moral, legal and social change. What are the legal and ethical questions that arise with respect to emerging military technologies, and how do these change the nature of war and the roles of combatants and civilians?

Course Description:

The course will focus on the following types of weapons:

Cyberwar: Computer warfare or cyberwar is gaining recognition as a “fifth battlefield”. It is also becoming evident that a well-organized Computer Network Attack (CNA) may harm a society’s vital infrastructure. What legal challenges arise with respect to the development of effective international and national strategies to prevent, regulate and resolve cyberwar? How can we develop legal mechanisms and procedures that allow for cyber security threats to be properly assessed? Which ethical and legal considerations and constraints should shape the development of civilian cybersecurity institutions? In creating a legal regime for cyber warfare, what dilemmas arise?

Unmanned vehicles and autonomous weapons: Two sets of issues fall under this heading: firstly, those that arise with respect to the increasing use of unmanned aerial combat vehicles, and secondly, the possible scenarios that will arise with future autonomous weapons. These cover a range of weaponry, from guns that fire automatically upon receipt of determinate data, to battlefield robots. What will be the balance between autonomy and accountability? What kind of challenges will arise for international humanitarian law, human rights law and criminal law? How can we maintain human accountability for action in what some have called a post-human era of warfare?

Non-Lethal weapons: There is a growing interest in weapons that are intended to immobilize rather kill battlefield opponents. (Since targets can get killed regardless, some prefer the term “less lethal weapons). These can include rubber bullets, stun guns and stun grenades, extreme light and sound, holograms, but also, more controversially, certain forms of poisonous gas.

Nuclear Weapons: Nuclear weapons were yesterday’s emerging military technology and in this respect provide a useful point of reference for discussing today’s new weapon’s systems. Despite wide recognition of the horrors of nuclear war, there are as yet no international law conventions that expressly ban the use of such weapons. Among weapon systems, nuclear weapons have the special characteristic that the most potent of these munitions (those capable of destroying entire cities) have ordinarily been developed for purposes of deterrence only – in other words to prevent such munitions from ever being used. More recently however, nuclear weapons have been developed specifically for purposes of use, for instance to destroy installations buried deep within mountains or against enemy units on the battlefield.


Wed. November 13

09:30–12:00 1. Greg Reichberg.

This first session will provide an overview of the different weapons systems to be examined in the course, and the normative challenges that they pose. Since the very idea of “new” and “emerging” presupposes a conception of what war has “traditionally” been like, as a point of reference some consideration will be given to standard battlefield experience, as recounted by a participant in the Vietnam war (Karl Marlantes, What it is like to go to war).

13:30–16:00 2. Simon O’Conner and Greg Reichberg.

This session will explore debates surrounding nuclear weapons, their possession for purposes of deterrence and their possible uses on the battlefield.

Thursday. November 14

09:30–12:00 3. Heather Harrison Dinniss.

This session will begin with a review of the key rules – ad bellum and in bello – which allow for an application of international law to drone and cyber attacks: the use of force under UN Charter article 2(4), the thresholds for self-defense under art. 51, the differentiation of prohibited targets (civilians and civilian objects) from legitimate targets (combatants and military infrastructure), combatant status, etc. Afterwards issues specific to the two technologies will be discussed: the kill-or-capture debate (drones), the geography of IHL (drones), and attribution issues (the attribution problem – cyber) will be considered.

13:00–15:00 4. Henrik Syse.

This session will begin with an examination of the ethical principles that have been advanced by philosophers to assess the morality of war. After this introduction to just war theory, consideration will be given to recent moral debate on military technologies, cyberwarfare in particular, especially as has been taken up in the Journal of Military Ethics.

Friday, November 15

9:30–12:00 5. Kristin B. Sandvik.

This session will first provide a brief political history of drones from air balloons to the Reaper. It will also consider the ramifications of opening civil airspace for drones initially produced as military technology, such as Switchblade. Afterwards, the technical aspects of automated and autonomous robot systems will be examined, as well as the “human out of the loop” problem. Finally, consideration will be given to the key arguments that have been advanced in the international campaign to ban killer robots.

13.30–16:00 6. Nic Marsh.

This session will provide a brief overview of ‘non-lethal’ weapons technology. It will then consider the legal and ethical implications of the deployment of these weapons. Topics to be covered include: Providing a proportionate response – use of the technology as part of a ‘just war’; the debate over ‘less-’ - and ‘non-’ lethal, including whether the technology inappropriately sanitizes violence; legal distinctions in use by police and military forces (especially when military personnel take on roles usually associated with law enforcement), how the technology relates to International Humanitarian Law, including the risk that the technology risks undermining parts of IHL; and whether the technology replaces lethal force or encourages more acts of violence.



Application by 13 October. Essay proposal by 20 November. Course essay by 20 December, 2013.​


All participants are expected to acquire an overview of the course literature in advance of the lectures. In order to achieve 5 ECTS, an essay of about 5000 words must be handed in by 20 December 2013. An essay proposal should be submitted to Kristoffer@prio.no by 20 November for approval by the organizers. The proposal should consist of a research question, an abstract/outline of about 200 words, and a paragraph on how the question relates to the course literature.


The deadline of application is 13 October 2013. Applicants should include details on your university affiliation and a paragraph on your doctoral research (except for members of the research school, who just register). Please send your application by e-mail to the Research School Coordinator, Kristoffer Lidén at kristoffer@prio.no . There is no participation fee, but the cost of transportation and accommodation, if needed, must be covered by participants. No financial assistance is available. Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application as quickly as possible. Early applications will have a higher chance of admission. If you need a reply before the application deadline, just let us know.

Course Literature:

Barrett, Edward T. (2013). Warfare in a New Domain: The Ethics of Military Cyber-Operations, Journal of Military Ethics, special issue on Cyberwar and Ethics, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 4-17.

Begby, Endre, Gregory M. & Henrik Syse (2012). The Ethics of War, Part I: Historical Trends, Philosophy Compass, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 316-327.

Carpenter, Charli. “Beware the Killer Robots.” Foreign Affairs, 2013.

Davison, Neil. 'Non-Lethal' Weapons. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Especially the following chapters: Introduction (pp. 1-10); 4. The Contemporary Development of Non-Lethal Weapons (pp. 70-102); and Conclusion (pp. 206-219).

Davison, Neil. “New Weapons: Legal and Policy Issues Associated with Weapons Described as ‘Non-lethal’.’’ In David Saxon ed., International Humanitarian Law and the Changing Technology of War. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2013. pp. 281-314.

Eberle, Christopher J. (2013). Just War and Cyberethics, Journal of Military Ethics, special issue on Cyberwar and Ethics, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 54-67.

Fidler, David.  “The Path to Less Lethal and Destructive War? Technological and Doctrinal Developments and International Humanitarian Law after Iraq and Afghanistan’ In David Saxon, ed. International Humanitarian Law and the Changing Technology of War,  2013, pp. 315-336.  

Gobinet, Pierre. “Procurement and Policy: Police Use of Emerging Weapons Technology.” In Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. pp. 68-99.

Harrison Dinniss, Heather. Cyber Warfare and the Laws of War. Cambridge, 2012.

Kaurin, Pauline. ‘With Fear and Trembling: An Ethical Framework for Non-Lethal Weapons.’ Journal of Military Ethics (2010), Vol. 9, No. 1, pp 100-114.

Lewer, Nick. “Non-Lethal Weapons: A Rose By Any Other Name.” In Sarah Perrigo and Jim Whitman eds. Geneva Conventions Under Assault. London: Pluto Press, 2010, pp 146-155.

Lin, Patrick (2010). Ethical Blowback from Emerging Technologies, Journal of Military Ethics, special issue on Ethics and Emerging Military Technologies, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 313-331.

Lucas, George (2010). Guest Editor’s Introduction: Post-Modern War, Journal of Military Ethics, special issue on Ethics and Emerging Military Technologies, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 289-298.

Marlantes, Karl. What It Is Like to Go to War. Corvus, 2011.

Marra, William and Sonia McNeil. “Understanding 'The Loop': Regulating the Next Generation of War Machines.” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 36, No. 3, 2013.   

Orbons, Sjef. “Do Non-Lethal Capabilities License to ‘Silence’,’’ Journal of Military Ethics (2010),  Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 78-99.

Orend, Brian (2005). War, in: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/.

Quinlan, Michael. Thinking About Nuclear Weapons. Oxford, 2009.

Schmitt, Michael N., ed. Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Singer, Peter W. Wired for War. Penguin Press, 2009.   

Singer, Peter W. (2010). The Ethics of Killer Applications, Journal of Military Ethics, special issue on Ethics and Emerging Military Technologies, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 299-312.

SIPRI Yearbook 2012, entry on nuclear weapons.

Course Files