International Law Studies


Autonomous cyber weapons have made their way onto the battlefield, raising the question of whether commanders can be held criminally responsible under command responsibility when war crimes are committed. The doctrine of command responsibility has a long history in international criminal law and comprises three core elements: the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship, the commander’s knowledge of the crime, and the commander’s failure to prevent or repress the subordinate’s criminal actions. This article unpacks the content of these elements and applies them to autonomous cyber weapons by treating them as being analogous to soldiers since they operate within an organized system of command and control. The article goes on to address the important question of whether autonomous cyber weapons as subordinates can commit crimes and then examines the element of causality for the purposes of command responsibility. This article also explains the nature of command responsibility and offers conclusions as to its utility in establishing accountability when war crimes are committed by autonomous cyber weapons.