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Culture of Command: Legal and Moral Standards of Command in the Navy and Responsibility for Machine Decision-Making

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Technical Report

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As the Navy employs autonomous systems, questions of responsibility for both the actions and the decisions of new technologies will arise. Society expects military members to act virtuously when making decisions with lethal consequences, and even more so when exercising the exceptional right of the lawful use of lethal force for the benefit of society. Machines may distance the moral agent from the decisions, but society, and the law of war, will still expect an agent to be responsible to prevent potential gaps in responsibility for actions in war. The Navys tradition of absolute command responsibility, which has defined the responsibility of commanders since the earliest day of the nation, makes the Commanding Officer a leading candidate to be held responsibility. However, attempts to do so may cause question about both the applicability of existing standards and whether doing so would be just. This paper argues that the current system of legal liability, administrative consequences, and policy measures has resulted in an imperfect but flexible framework that can justly and adequately integrate autonomous systems. Using the lens of the 2017 USS FITZGERALD collision and the debate that followed provide a framework to examine both the legal and ethical bases of the responsibility of command. By starting with the limits of the criminal and legal systems, both international and domestic, the need for a more flexible system that draws on the deeper question of societys values that help determine the just limits of responsibility. This paper will seek to apply the current legal and ethical principles that underpin the responsibilities of command to autonomous technology and demonstrate that the current system is sufficient to not only meet the requirements for responsibility for the use of force, but also that the existing limits on the absolute nature of command responsibility will allow those principles to be applied justly.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Cybernetics
  • Sociology and Law
  • Administration and Management

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