Can Drone Attacks be Morally Justified?

Ben Cohen
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Here's an interesting take from philosopher Bradley Strawser on the US government's use of drones. Strawser's basic argument centers around the actual reasons behind the war, not the use of drones themselves, which he says are much safer, more effective and completely transparent:

Strawser says cases where drone strikes allegedly killed innocents would be unjustified, but did not render the technology illegitimate. "If the policy to begin with is wrong then of course we shouldn't do it. It's irrelevant if we use drones, a sniper rifle or a crossbow." He says he considers poison gas and nuclear weapons inherently wrong because they did not discriminate – unlike drones.

"The question is whether drones will tempt us to do wrong things. But it doesn't seem so because we have cases where drones were used justly and it seems they actually improve our ability to behave justly. Literally every action they do is recorded. For a difficult decision (operators) can even wait and bring other people into the room. There's more room for checks and oversights. That to me seems a normative gain."

Straswer says he understands why many shuddered over revelations of the so-called White House "kill lists" but believes it, in fact, shows accountability at the highest level, unlike Abu Ghraib, when authorities pinned blame on lower ranks......

Strawser is at pains to stress he is no hawk. But if a particular operation was just, and if using a drone could avert risk to a pilot without compromising the operation, the US had a duty to use drones, he says.

I guess it's a little tricky to argue against this logic - if you absolutely have to fight, it's better to risk as few lives as possible, but again, only if the cause is justified. There are still several problems with this argument though. Firstly, the US targeted killing policy is completely illegal under international law, no matter how complicated the legal language used to justify it is. If another country started sending drones to take out American military planners, we would consider it an act of war - and rightly so. The US is sovereign territory and controls its own airspace. There's no reason why Yemen or any other country subject to drone attacks shouldn't have the same rights.

Also, the use of robots to kill people further removes the American population from the realities of war. Once it has been outsourced to non-thinking, feeling bits of metal, war and murder become like video games with no real meaning. You can sit at home and eat Cheetos while your country sends flying robots to assassinate people in countries you've never heard of, and you'll never know anyone who risked their lives to do it. The Vietnam war only stopped when the death toll in America became so high that the public refused to partake in the assault on South East Asia. I think it's a given that had the draft been in place when the US decided to go to war with Iraq, there would have been a lot more questions asked and the evidence pored over far more seriously. If the political classes knew their children could end up getting blown to pieces in the Middle East, I'd bet money there would not have been the votes needed to authorize war. Now drones are taking over the jobs of soldiers, there's no risk to anyone other than the weird dark people in countries with unpronounceable names.

I personally don't have much time for armchair warriors eager to send other people's children into wars, but this takes that mentality to another level. The use of drones completely destroys the meaning of war, making it easier to support and easier to detach oneself from its brutal realities.

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