The Implications of Drones on the Just War Tradition
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 September 2011
Increasingly, the United States has come to rely on the use of drones to counter the threat posed by terrorists. Drones have arguably enjoyed significant successes in denying terrorists safe haven while limiting civilian casualties and protecting U.S. soldiers, but their use has raised ethical concerns. The aim of this article is to explore some of the ethical issues raised by the use of drones using the just war tradition as a foundation. We argue that drones offer the capacity to extend the threshold of last resort for large-scale wars by allowing a leader to act more proportionately on just cause. However, they may be seen as a level of force short of war to which the principle of last resort does not apply; and their increased usage may ultimately raise jus in bello concerns. While drones are technically capable of improving adherence to jus in bello principles of discrimination and proportionality, concerns regarding transparency and the potentially indiscriminate nature of drone strikes, especially those conduced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as opposed to the military, may undermine the probability of success in combating terrorism.
- Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2011
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2 While the military employs a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicles, this paper will focus exclusively on Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles, which we refer to as drones. Drones are different from robots, which denote completely autonomous machines, whereas “unmanned” systems are remotely controlled by human operators either prior to and/or during their flight. There are currently three kinds of drones: fully autonomous (preprogrammed before flight), semiautonomous (requiring ground input during critical portions of flight, including weapons employment), and fully ground-controlled.
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