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HCSS Snapshot: The Development of ‘Killer Robots’ and the European Union’s Strategic Options

April 30th 2019 - 12:15

The development of lethal autonomous weapon systems (hereafter LAWs), colloquially known as ‘killer robots’, has increased considerably over the past decade. As a normative power that derives its legitimacy from ethical principles and rules, the European Union (EU), like many other actors in the international stage, has opposed the production and deployment of LAWs. This snapshot indicates that the EU approach to the development of LAWs is characterized by a normative-strategic dilemma. The normative element pertains to the erosion of  the EU’s ability to lead by example when investing in LAWs, while the strategic aspect refers to the strategic disadvantage for  the Union when refraining from developing LAWs vis a vis other actors which continue to do so. This snapshot 1) provides an overview of the current state of affairs in the development of LAWs; 2) analyzes the compatibility of EU foreign policy with the growing automation of weapons systems; and 3) provides three strategic options for the EU in relation to its approach to LAWs.

Download the snapshot here.

Authors: Alen Hristov & Michel Roelen

Michel Roelen
Michel Roelen is a Strategic Analyst at HCSS. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy and has an Executive Master in Security and Defence from the Advance Military Command and Staff Course, both in The Netherlands. Currently he is working towards a Master’s degree in Military History at the University of Amsterdam. As an artillery officer he has held operational leadership positions as Platoon, Company and Battalion Commander, operational positions as battalion and brigade operations officer, and staff officer positions at the Army Staff and the Ministry of Defence.