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Legal and normative framework of warfare

We work closely with the with the military legal community to investigate the evolution of the legal framework of warfare and the impact of law and legal processes on security policy and military operations.

The decision to use organised violence in pursuit of strategic goals is not just a matter of political will and equipment; it is also governed by a system of social norms and processes, including a complex body of domestic and international law.

The impact of these rules and processes on strategic decision-making has increased steadily in recent years. Normative considerations have evolved into critical determinants of national security policy choices, particularly in Western societies, and are now a key feature of the contemporary strategic landscape.

While the growing impact of legal rules and processes promises to strengthen the rule of law at the international level, it also imposes operational burdens and strategic costs on the use of force. The extent to which these developments now threaten to undermine operational effectiveness and constrain national security choices has therefore become a question of immense significance.

Lead academics

No single branch of international law regulates the conduct of military operations in a comprehensive manner; the armed forces are subject to a multitude of distinct legal regimes, depending on the nature of their activities.This means that the applicable law is exceedingly complex and creates a significant degree of uncertainty.

Our research in International Law and Military Operations serves as a nexus for experts in the various international legal aspects of contemporary military operations. We provide an interdisciplinary environment in which to conduct individual and collaborative research. Our purpose is to set new directions in research in this field, and to build partnerships between the academic community, practitioners, and policy makers.

The first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen dazzling strides in the fields of remotely-piloted and autonomous military systems: armed 'drones' may have grabbed the headlines, but remotely-controlled and (increasingly) autonomous systems are making strides across the spectrum of military activity.

Such systems give rise to both operational and ethical debates. On the operational side, remotely-piloted and autonomous systems appear to offer substantially reduced human risk to the forces operating them, along with advantages, such as prolonged loiter times. Given their possible vulnerability to jamming and potentially limited situational awareness however, there may yet remain many military activities where manned systems retain a tactical edge.

On the ethical and legal side, the absence of of an in-situ human operator - and potentially even the absence of any human operator, in the case of autonomous systems - raises questions over whether there is sufficient accountability, liability, situational awareness, and human connection present to justify taking life. SSI research serves to advance understanding along both of these axes.