Year Ahead – The Coming Year’s Law of Armed Conflict Evolution
Predicting near-term Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC)-related changes is a fraught venture. Some events, however, appear sufficiently clear to predict with relative safety.
1. The United Nations General Assembly (not the Security Council) will establish an international commission to try the Russian Federation for war crimes, including aggressive war. An indictment of President Putin will be issued. A problem: securing his presence. Indictment alone would have international significance. Prosecution in absentia is ineffectual. Ratione personae, the doctrine of diplomatic immunity, is defeated by trials before international criminal courts.[i] Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice’s Congo v. Belgium case law will be interpreted to allow trial of heads of state.
2. Drones with more deadly, more diverse battlefield functions will become even more central to battlefield management. In October, seven Ukrainian “Sea Dragon” naval drone boats attacked the Russian fleet in Novorossiysk harbor, sinking a Russian auxiliary vessel. Also in October, aerial drones and Ukrainian Neptune missiles sank the Moskva, flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. (And U.S. admirals shivered.) Drone swarms will rule (until countermeasures are found.) Ukraine has initiated a program by which Russian combatants may surrender to specially guided drones which lead POWs to Ukrainian lines. Russian soldiers have so surrendered.
The United States provides infantry platoon leaders with armored laptops with installed tactical maps for employment of “small unit” drones. In 2023, laptops and hand-launched drones will be issued to enlisted section leaders of weapons platoons and companies. Eventually, infantry fire team leaders will be issued laptops and drones along with their rifles.
3. The B-21 “Raider” bomber is the last manned U.S. bomber. At an estimated $700 million per copy, the B-21 is too expensive to risk to frail human control. Without human crews, heavy and costly safety and aircraft control systems can be dispensed with, and aircraft control made more reliable. Eventually, fighter, attack, reconnaissance, cargo, and passenger aircraft and, finally, virtually all military aircraft will be remotely controlled. (See “Drones” above.)
4. Satellites will be employed by Russia to attack and destroy U.S. communications satellites, making space a battleground. At the UN, on 26 October, a senior Russian diplomat threatened, “Quasi-civil infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliation strike.” A Tass Russian news agency headline echoed the threat. Elon Musk’s Starlink has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit, Maxar several hundred more. Both satellite systems provide hi-definition imagery of Ukrainian combat zones and facilitate Ukraine-US communications, i.e., lawful armed conflict targets.
5. The Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, legal and moral trainwreck that it is, will remain open for no business. Its current thirty-five detainees will decrease, if we can find States willing to accept the eighteen already approved for release, and will further decrease if plea agreements of “guilty” to 9/11 involvement, in exchange for confinement for life, are permitted. It will be the most expensive prison, per capita, in history. At least five 9/11-related detainees, without trial, will never be released.
Gary Solis is a retired U.S. Marine (26 years active duty), twice serving in Vietnam as a platoon and company commander. After Vietnam he earned his J.D. from the University of California, Davis, and was a Marine judge advocate for 17 years. He is also a retired Professor of Law.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
[i] See: Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium), Judgement  ICJ Reports, ¶¶ 58 and 61, specifying Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and citing ICTY/ICTR cases, UNSC resolutions under Chapter VII, and ICC Art. 27.
Does International Law Still Matter in Ukraine?
January 4, 2023
The Legal Status of Unmanned Maritime (Naval) Systems: A Never-Ending Story?
by Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg
January 5, 2023
The Hurdles to International Regulation of AI Tools
by Ashley Deeks
January 5, 2023