Editor’s Note: This is an interesting look at the progression of “stealth” or low-observable technology and its possible ramifications from a “legal” standpoint. For those without military background, the Geneva Convention guidelines can seem a bit muddled and confusing. How does one wage warfare in a “legal” sense, especially in a situation where a current enemy–Daesh, for example–adheres to no rules whatsoever? As technology develops and paradigms shift as a result, how do we adhere to those black-and-white rules and continue to dominate the battlespace where everything is only shades of gray?
“Invisibility cloaks” and other future advances in military camouflage techniques could violate the Geneva Convention, a top military lawyer has warned.
Refinements of technologies that are already used on stealth bombers could breach compliance with international laws regulating armed conflict if equipment is disguised or soldiers’ weapons are hidden, according to Bill Boothby, a former air commodore and deputy director of RAF legal services.
Scientists and military contractors are spending tens of millions of pounds researching methods for generating effective invisibility through more sophisticated “metamaterials” – substances designed to absorb or bend light and/or radar waves in order to conceal approaching aircraft or troops.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been one of the major funders of metamaterial science, triggering excitable comparisons with Harry Potter’s fictional invisibility cloak. Last year the US army announced it was planning to test prototype metamaterial uniforms.
uch chameleon-style technology is not entirely new. B2 stealth bombers first went into service with the US air force in the late 1980s and took part in air raids on Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Their narrow profile, radar-absorbing paint and deflectors are intended to make them virtually invisible to enemy radar.
In Weapons and the Law of Armed Conflict, a comprehensive survey of emerging defence technologies published this month by Oxford University Press, Boothby highlights difficulties further technological success could pose.
Under article 37 of the 1949 Geneva conventions, ruses such as camouflage, decoys, mock operations and misinformation are all permitted.
“Conventional camouflage,” Boothby suggests, “aimed, for example, at causing the enemy to blend into the background, is lawful and bending light might be regarded simply as a technologically sophisticated way of achieving that outcome.”
But if camouflage is used to pretend to be a non-combatant in order to deceive the enemy and thereby to cause death, Boothby says, it could be outlawed under the Geneva convention clause entitled “prohibition of perfidy.”
The article in its entirety can be viewed here, and we encourage you go take a look at the other points Boothby highlights, which could pose a problem going forward. What are your thoughts?
(Featured photo courtesy of scifi.stackexchange.com)