From New Zealand to Stockholm
10 April 2012
At the Swedish National Defence College, at present one of the employees who has come from farthest away is Heather Harrison Dinniss from New Zealand. She is a Researcher at the International Law Centre, and investigates the legal aspects of the meeting between technical developments and international law.
Heather Harrison Dinniss is originally from Wellington, New Zealand, and has earned a PhD in Law from the London School of Economics. She began a two-year post-doctoral position at the Swedish National Defence College in July 2011.
- When I read the advertisement for the job, I thought that it could have been written especially for me, Heather Harrison Dinniss says. The Swedish National Defence College was looking for someone who specialised in the law of military operations and who could contribute to their research on the meeting of technological developments and the laws of armed conflict. That is what my doctoral thesis was about, how the laws of war are affected by the rapid developments in military technology.
Research – technology and law
Heather Harrison Dinniss has done the main part of her research into cyber warfare; that is, the use of computer code as a weapon aimed at information and network systems. A number of complicated issues must be taken into account.
- For example, under the laws of armed conflict, one must separate between and separate oneself from the civilian population, she says. What happens when the threat comes from the internet where anonymity is the norm? Also, what is to be regarded as a use of force when we use computer code as a weapon? Assume that someone succeeds in crashing the New York stock exchange; there is extensive economic damage, but it is not physical damage. Is this to be regarded as a threat or use of force prohibited by international law? These are the kind of questions I investigate.
Her research has resulted in a book, Cyber Warfare and the Laws of War, due to be published in July 2012. At the same time, she is involved in a number of research projects at the International Law Centre.
- We are investigating the legal issues associated with unmanned systems and how they are used on the battlefield, she says. Currently, so-called remote-controlled drones are used, but what happens when we take the 'human out of the loop'? We already have unmanned vehicles that can follow a multitude of tracking systems without human involvement, and the question is how this is to be handled when the day arrives in which the weapons systems can identify targets and fire at will, autonomously. We are not there yet, but this is the present line of development, and this raises serious ethical and legal issues.
Do you have any answers to these questions?
- I am hesitant to take humans out of the equation. I am of the opinion that it should always be an individual who makes the decision to attack.
The Swedish National Defence College – a singular working environment
How does your experience of the Swedish National Defence College differ from your previous professional experiences?
- At a traditional university, you may be the only specialist in a particular field, but at the Swedish National Defence College, we have eight lawyers, all of whom are experts in the laws of armed conflict. We can debate on a whole different level, and there are always knowledgeable colleagues to discuss ideas with. This is what the study of law is all about – dialogue and opinion - especially in international law, where different states have differing interpretations.
- Another benefit is that there is practical military and technical expertise close at hand. I was in charge of a seminar in which one of the exercises required some technical background knowledge about minefields at sea. Instead of spending an hour or so in the library, reading about the subject, I could discuss the matter with the naval officer in the office next to mine. He could answer all my questions in a matter of minutes. I think it works both ways, too – when other people have legal questions, they can quickly get answers from us. These are advantages that shouldn't be underestimated.
How do you like Sweden?
- I love it! I was a little apprehensive about the cold weather when I first moved here, but this winter has been great. I really enjoy those days that are cold but the sun is shining. Next winter I hope to try cross-country skiing and skating. And I've already started to learn a little Swedish!