Unmanned Drones and the Ethics of War

Authored by: Christian Enemark

Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415539340
eBook ISBN: 9780203107164
Adobe ISBN: 9781136261008


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Over the century since Italian army pilot Giolio Gavotti threw four bombs out of his Blériot XI monoplane's cockpit onto two Turkish-held oases in Libya in 1911, 1 air power technology has advanced steadily, but a concern has endured that novel uses of force should be driven not only by what is possible but also by what is permissible. A useful tool for ethical assessment is the centuries-old legitimization framework known as the just war tradition. This framework, incorporating contemporary international laws on the use of force, is comprised of two strands: jus ad bellum (the justice of going to war) and jus in bello (the just conduct of war). This chapter explores the relationship between just war principles and the new technology of armed, uninhabited aerial vehicles (“hunter-killer drones”). The focus is on the US Government because it has recently engaged in the most extensive use of this technology (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen). The first half of the chapter assesses drone use in the light of principles governing the resort to force: such action should have a just and proportionate cause, be properly authorized and motivated by right intention, have a reasonable prospect of success, and be a last resort. The second half examines whether drone strikes satisfy the jus in bello requirements that force be used only in a manner that discriminates between combatants and non-combatants, and that generates harm proportional to the expected military benefit. The overarching question is whether (or the extent to which) drone technology unjustly increases the incidence and/or lethality of armed conflict.

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