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IDF’s Advanced AI Weaponry and Robotics Raises Ethical Questions on Modern Warfare

Last Updated March 6, 2024 4:57 PM
James Morales
Last Updated March 6, 2024 4:57 PM

Key Takeaways

  • The Israel Defence Force (IDF) has deployed a range of robots and AI-powered weapons in Gaza.
  • Critics of the technology have warned that increasingly automated weapons systems threaten to undermine military accountability.
  • This week, United Nations negotiators have convened to discuss a potential international treaty on automated lethal weapons.

Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has been a pioneer in the use of unmanned weapons systems and Israeli defense firms build some of the most formidable automated military hardware on the market.

Following its ground invasion of Gaza in 2023, the IDF has deployed its arsenal of unmanned combat systems to full effect, demonstrating just how effective military drones and robots can be. However, critics have raised the alarm over what they perceive as a worrying slide toward automated warfare.

Robots Keep IDF Casualties Low

While superior weaponry has always provided Israel with a military edge, the ongoing war in Gaza highlights the IDF’s devastating technological supremacy more than ever before. 

According to the latest IDF announcement, 585  Israeli personnel have lost their lives in the conflict so far. Meanwhile, Gaza’s Health Ministry has reported  that the Palestinian death count has risen to more than 30,000.

The IDF has succeeded in keeping the number of Israeli casualties comparatively low by deploying an army of ground drones in dangerous situations that might pose a risk to human soldiers.

In a war that has been staged across a network of booby-trapped tunnels and a landscape peppered with mines, semi-autonomous 4-legged robots carry out preliminary surveillance. 

Meanwhile, compact self-driving “Jaguars” equipped with remote-controlled machine guns have been used to police the Israel-Gaza border since 2021. Unmanned weapons have also been installed  in the West Bank, where turrets that can fire sponge-tipped bullets and tear gas watch over refugee camps and military checkpoints.

The IDF argues that unmanned weapons systems protect soldiers’ lives and are no more of a threat to Palestinians than having troops in place in the same situation would be.

However, critics have warned that the trend toward ever-more automated warfare undermines accountability. 

Automated Weapons Threaten Military Accountability

While unmanned drones have been used in warfare for years, the deep integration of AI into weapons systems is a more recent trend that has profound moral implications.

After all, behind every remote-controlled drone, there is still a soldier who can be held accountable. But who would take responsibility for war crimes committed by AI?

From automatic anti-missile guns to AI-guided drone swarms , the IDF’s most autonomous military hardware currently remains non-lethal. 

However, with AI increasingly integrated into all manner of defensive and offensive weapons systems, the looming threat of arms that can kill without any human intervention has risen up the international agenda.

Killer Robots in International Law

In 2013, Human Rights Watch launched the “Stop Killer Robots” campaign, calling for a new international treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons. Over a decade later, international negotiations have finally started moving.

After 164 nations voted in favor of a UN resolution  expressing concern about lethal autonomous weapons systems last year, a UN session convened in Austria this week to discuss the issue. According to the Stop Killer Robots Campaign, the delegations demonstrated a “widespread desire from states to make progress towards new international law.” But obstacles still remain.

When the resolution was passed in October, Israel was one of just 13 nations that abstained and considering the Israeli government’s longstanding grievances with the UN, there is no guarantee it would ever agree to a general ban.

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