Case Western Reserve University conference examines international law and ethics issues arising from emerging military technologies

Panel topics: autonomous robotic weapons, military use of genomic science, cyber warfare, and non-lethal weaponry




News Release: Wednesday, August 27, 2014



Rapidly emerging technologies carry the potential for new types of warfare. Experts gather Friday, Sept. 5 at Case Western Reserve University School of Law for the day-long conference: International Regulation of Emerging Military Technologies.

Prominent experts on international law, ethics and arms control will discuss appropriate ways to regulate four categories of emerging technologies: autonomous robotic weapons, military use of genomic science, cyber warfare, and non-lethal weaponry.

Although the panels have diverse topics, a common thread is how to prepare international law for these technologies.

"The main question is under what circumstances should any military use them?" said Maxwell Mehlman, Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law and director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve Law School. "Should there be international agreement? What would the rules be? And what's realistic? What can actually be enforced?"

Unlike drones, which are controlled weapons, autonomous robots can be programmed to make instant decisions in a precise military operation. “Some think that it may be possible to program robots to act morally," Mehlman said.


Genomic science, Mehlman explains, raises both wide-ranging and personal questions: Should everyone doing military service undergo genomic testing for the purpose of identifying those who are either more or less likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder? And how will the bank of genomic data that is collected then be used?

A cyber warfare attack could infiltrate or disable a computer system, or a power grid, or bank accounts. It raises concerns about disproportionate retaliation.

Non-lethal weaponry seems like a more humane type of warfare, a way to disable an enemy without killing. Might that tactic actually remove ethical barriers from launching an attack?

The conference is made possible by a grant of the Wolf Family Foundation and support from Case Western Reserve's Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence.

Organizers of the conference are the Consortium on Emerging Military Technologies, Military Operations, and National Security (CETMONS), directed by Mehlman, and the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center, directed by Case Western Reserve School of Law Interim Dean Michael Scharf.

Articles by the speakers will be published in a special double issue of the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

The conference agenda and link to a webcast are available at: http://law.case.edu/Lectures.aspx?lec_id=372