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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The ethics of drone warfare

by Michael De Dora

As you probably already know, the United States has increasingly relied on drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to carry out warfare in recent years. Drone attacks have been particularly popular under President Barack Obama’s administration. According to the New America Foundation, there were 43 drone attacks between January and October 2009 (right when Obama took office), compared to just 34 in all of 2008 (when George W. Bush was still in office). The Obama administration has shown no indication that it will halt their use.

The government’s increased reliance on drones has sparked public debate: Are drone strikes legal? Are they ethical? In my reading of various news and opinion articles on the issue, those who object to drones have most often made three arguments:

1. Drones violate domestic law. Many, or even most, drone strikes take place in Pakistan or other Middle Eastern countries where the US has not declared war against a foreign state, but is instead working with local officials to root out terrorists under some “handshake agreement.” As such, many people feel drone strikes are an unjustified use of presidential and military power. US officials defend drone strikes on the grounds that they do not target a formal state, but a small group of people that have carried out attacks on domestic soil and plan to do so again. Thus, formal warfare laws do not apply (in other words: hey, it’s just the never-ending War on Terror).

2. Drones violate international law, which restricts when and how different states can engage in armed conflict. Yet, as with domestic law, there is no conflict between two formal states. Also, most drone strikes are carried out by the CIA, which as a civilian agency and a noncombatant under international law is not governed by the same laws of war that cover US military agencies.

3. Drones kill civilians. The Wall Street Journal reported via intelligence officials that since Obama took office, the CIA has used drones to kill 400 to 500 suspected militants, while only ~20 civilians have been killed. However, in 2009, Pakistani officials said the strikes had killed roughly 700 civilians and only 14 terrorist leaders. Meanwhile, a New America Foundation analysis in northwest Pakistan from between 2004 to 2010 reports that the strikes killed between 830 and 1210 individuals, of whom 550 to 850 were militants (about two-thirds of the total).

These arguments are nuanced and complex. You can read more about US arguments and other counter-arguments in this excellent article in the Wall Street Journal. But let us put these — and any discussion of just war theory — aside for a moment, for I think there is a more basic ethical point here.

Notice that the objections above do not inherently reject the use of unmanned drones. Instead, they focus on international law, domestic law, and the accuracy of drones. This raises an important question: are drone strikes inherently any more or less ethical than, say, manned aircraft strikes? Is there, or should there be, an ethical distinction between launching missiles from half a world away and sending fighter jets to carry out such an attack?

I have pondered these questions for several days now and have come to the tentative conclusion that there is no ethical distinction. In my view, the method in which war is carried out — by drone, jet, or a missile launched from a nuclear sub — is less important than the pretenses under which war is being carried out in the first place. If an act of war violates domestic or international law, it does so regardless of whether the attack was carried out by a manned or unmanned aircraft. If an act of war kills civilians, one must parse whether civilians were intentionally or knowingly put at risk, or whether it was an issue of collateral damage. But I have seen no indication that drones kill more civilians on average than manned strikes (your research is welcome). So why is there such an objection to, specifically, drone strikes?

In reading objections to drone use, I can’t help but feel an unspoken and lurking moral sentiment that drone use is wrong because it removes the human element of war. That is, people reject the use of drones because drones remove a pilot (or submarine crew) from harm’s way.

Consider these three passages. The first is from a story in the news outlet Christian Century:

With drones, operators sitting in front of computer monitors in Virginia and Nevada can target enemies halfway around the world. When their shift is done, drone operators retire to their suburban homes.

The second is from an essay in the Catholic magazine America:

Killing with drones is made easy for operators, who often work at great distances from the scene of attack. An Air Force ‘pilot’ may be in Nevada, while C.I.A. operatives are in Langley, Va., and others, including private contractors, are in Florida, Pakistan or Afghanistan. An operator may launch an attack from a trailer in Nevada viewing a computer monitor and using a joystick. The operators never see the persons they have killed. The pilot of a fighter jet flies over the place where the attack will occur and risks being shot down; a drone pilot never experiences the place where the attack occurs and knows he or she is in no personal danger. The operator can go home at the end of the shift.

The third is from an article on PBS.org:

Missile strikes launched from the comfort of Langley, Virginia, a half a world away from Waziristan, ... to critics, remain morally problematic.

On one hand, this seems backward to me. Drones actually remove a pilot or crew from harm’s way, and so they would seem a better manner of carrying out war. Imagine being able to carry out attacks on highly dangerous terrorists and counter-insurgents without having to put your own people at risk of death. This would seem desirable.

On the other hand, perhaps there is something to the idea that warfare made easier means warfare more often; that the more we remove the human element from one side of warfare, the more that side becomes willing to commit to warfare. This does not seem necessarily true, as warfare has not increased — and might be decreasing — with increasing technology. But I am also not entirely sure it is a compelling argument against drone use. Rather, it seems an argument against any advance in military technology — from guns that allow troops to shoot their weapons from further away, to planes that allow forces to drop bombs from higher elevations, to even bulletproof vests that provide more safety to soldiers engaged in war.

But, as always, I offer my thoughts to the peer review of Rationally Speaking. What do you think?


  1. What is the ethical or legal difference, I beg to learn, between a drone, a target-seeking missile, an intercontinental nuclear missile, or a long-distance Howitzer like those used in the First or Second World Wars? In all cases, the operator does not directly risk his skin, and acts from far away. Only marginally different is bombing a coastline from ships, since the ships can be themselves bombed from the coast, but so can also be the country sending an intercontinental missile and any other such attacks. Retaliation is almost always possible.
    Also, violating the skies of a friendly country territory with a drone directed to some point in said country territory (as in the case of Pakistan) is not certainly regarded as good manners when you wage a war, but so would be using a target-seeking missile or a Howitzer projectile to launch such attack over the same territory. Worse than all that, one may think, is sending a SWAT team in helicopters like those who killed Osama, and who certainly risked their lives in the endeavor. But it is not worse, really, although it is regarded as worse in warfare circles because it involves ground troops, a difference with enormous significance in the past but rapidly becoming quaintly obsolete.
    Again, a non-problem is offered for our philosophical consideration. What a pity, really, with so many actual problems out there.

    1. Something of a stealth weapon, more accurate than hand-drawn longbow and less noisy than a firearm. It could penetrate armor and be useful as an anti-knight weapon.

      Oh wait....thats why crossbows were banned by the church.

  2. Michael, US war efforts have undoubtedly increased in the past 10 years as compared to the decade preceding. Do you know of any other country that uses drones?

    I think it's deceptive to use stats on warfare for the entire world in an article on a specific US technology.

  3. On the side of the target/victim, killing via drone seems no more or less morally problematic than killing using more standard military technologies.

    If there is an ethical problem with drone warfare, it seems to me that the problem lies in the ease with which operators can detach themselves from the moral dimensions of their activity. The game-like feel of drone operation may make it easier to think of targets as blobs of pixels on the screen instead of as human beings.

    I'm a bit reminded of a story I read years ago where an Air Force pilot described the beauty of his job as he dropped napalm bombs in Vietnam. But then, while visiting a hospital, he had the chance to see some people suffering from napalm burns up close. Suddenly the war became much grittier and more personal.

    On the other hand (assuming one has already settled the question of whether it is morally justifiable to kill a particular target), this could be a good thing, since the stress of combat often results in poor decisions and failures to act by those subject to such stress.

  4. Sorry for the deletions. My computer seemed stuck in the process of sending the comment, although in fact it had already done so.

    My comment, of course, agrees with Michael's opinion. But my point is that "debunking" the opposite view is not worthwhile.

  5. When our adversaries start flying their own drones into our remaining trade centers, we may start to have a different view of the bigger picture.

  6. It seems like it all depends on the kind of war you are waging. for an anti-insurgency war, drones can kill enemy combatants but help in no way the situation on the ground, as there are no troops on the ground earning the trust of the locals. IF America were engaged in a more conventional war, say with north korea, I bet you would see ads up all over the place in the us for America's bright young gamers to join the drone corps, and you would see a lot more support for warfare with friendly troops at a remove from the enemy. The progress of military technology since the dawn of time has been to further remove the enemy from the soldier. As to the ethical question, technology has prevented the sort of total war we have seen in earlier conflicts, and the casualties of our most recent wars have paled in comparison to conflicts of the past. As a side note, I think that the US should not be sending drone strikes or any military action into Pakistan without the agreement and participation of their government.

  7. This topic was covered (in a way) on an original Star Trek series episode, "A Taste of Amrmageddon".

    Two planets in a star system which had been at war for generations eventually "sanitized" war by waging it through computer simulations. When a simulated attack occured the computer calculated the damage and death toll and civilians when notified volunatirly entered disintgration chambers. They did so because they feared if they did not comply with the computers orders that the other planet would return to waging real war with all its horrors.

    Captain Kirk, was appalled by this (in part because the Enterprise was considred destroyed in one virtual attack)and destroyed the computers that ran the war simulation. He surmises that without the horror of real war there would no incentive to ever find peace

    The money speech:

    "I've given you back the horrors of war.
    The Vendikans now assume that you've broken your agreementand you're preparing to wage real war with real weapons.

    They'll do the same only the next attack they launch will do more than count up numbers in a computer. They'll destroy cities, devastate your planet.
    Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands.
    You can either wage it with real weapons,
    or you might consider an alternative--
    Put an end to it.
    Make peace.
    Contact Vendikar.
    I think you'll find
    that they're just as terrified, appalled,
    horrified as you are,
    that they'll do anything to avoid the alternative--
    peace or utter destruction.
    It's up to you."

    This is also the episode where Kirk says of our killing nature:

    "All right. It's instinctive (killing).
    But the instinct can be fought.
    We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands,
    but we can stop it.
    We can admit that we're killers,
    but we won't kill today.
    That's all it takes--
    knowing that we won't kill today."

  8. I think you are morally obtuse.

    It took a couple of days of pondering to come to a tentative conclusion that guided missiles launched from different platforms are ethically the same? It would take a NY atheist minute (shorter than a NY minute - gotta live life while its there!) to decide this if you looked at it from the victims' perspective. This Doonesbury strip should be burned onto the brain of those who debate the ethics of missiles from only the view of the trigger-man.

    "Why is there such an objection to, specifically, drone strikes?" Because that is what, specifically, is being used! The distinction between planes and UAV's isn't remarkable, except that drone strikes are actually happening in the world, which I know is hard for philosophers to deal with, but please try.

    And have you felt an unspoken and lurking moral sentiment that war is wrong? That killing civilians is wrong? If so, would there be any problem that it is generally unspoken and lurking about?

    Btw, read the Washington Post articles on the drone war. Air Force pilots are flying the drones and pulling the triggers, while CIA personnel are making targeting and strike decisions. You should also spend some time on AntiWar.com, particularly recent articles and interviews with Gareth Porter.

  9. Norwegian,

    Your emotionalism does the discussion a disservice.

    Regarding the ethical nature of drones, if (1) the cause / mission / conflict / war is just and (2) if the use of drones is (a) economical and (b) effective [relative to alternatives], then of course using drones is to be preferred over standard alternatives. Why risk the loss of U.S. lives unnecessarily?

    Judging from your impassioned comment / rant, I suspect you want to deny (1) above. If so, then your comment / rant against drone is, technically, a non sequitur. As Michael requested, we should place discussions of just war theory aside (in other words, assume pro tem that the war is justified- even if you hold that it is not) and assess the ethical (de)merits of drones.

  10. "Thus, formal warfare laws do not apply (in other words: hey, it’s just the never-ending War on Terror)."

    This is a side point, but I was struck by the parenthetical statement quoted above.

    I'm not generally a big Anscombe fan, but I did particularly like her treatment of the condition of having specific aims in order to carry out a just war. She said that if the proclaimed aims are so vague or so infinite that they can never be met, then the people can never entreat their government to cease teh war on the condition that their aims have been reached.

  11. Eamon,

    BS on claiming emotionalism hurts debates in general and also on the term's use to describe my comment.

    As to an actual point you make, claiming my argument is a non sequitur, that is ridiculous. I don't even make any extended arguments where a particular step might not follow from its antecedents.

    My entire point was to reject Micheal's limited consideration of only how the weapons are fired in a discussion about the ethics of drones.

    Mark Erickson

  12. It is my impression that the "moral dilemma" occurs in those who perceive that war needs valor in the heroic soldiers who participate. The removal of the drone operator to the safety of a foreign country's command center negates any risking of life and thus any valor or heroics in their military actions. War is simplified to simple cost effective killing. No heroes to honor, no soldiers to reward.

    The moral/ethical issue here is simply:
    Can you justify killing people?
    The method is not important.

  13. The statement was made, "The problem lies in the ease with which operators can detach themselves from the moral dimensions of their activity." which ties neatly into the author's comment, "Warfare made easier means warfare more often."

    If only warfare had a more personal, direct impact as it did a couple of centuries ago - George Washington actually went into battle after all, did he not? - perhaps the "suits" would be less inclined to so impulsively deploy troops.

    Maybe war isn't gritty, ugly and reprehensible enough for the right people. Our representatives are too far removed from the havoc they wreak. Maybe the only people eligible for Congress should be those who've either themselves served or have immediate family members who have been or are currently in military service.

    Ethically, there seems to be little different, but I do believe that drones only serve to further remove decision-makers from the sickening realities of their whims.

  14. Michael, your last argument, that it makes war too easy, is perhaps the best. You're too young to have seen it, unless in reruns, but, the original Star Trek had an episode about an interplanetary war that had been going on centuries, precisely because the attacks were computer simulations, albeit with actual casualties that each planet was bound by "Treaty" to inflict upon itself. Kirk deliberately destroyed the computers on one planet to force them to face the messiness of "real" war.

  15. "If an act of war kills civilians, one must parse whether civilians were intentionally or knowingly put at risk, or whether it was an issue of collateral damage."

    This statement shows how little you understand the topic. Anytime a civilian dies, it is collateral damage. But this is just a PR term. International humanitarian law (the laws of war) contain the categories of proportionality, military necessity and distinction. (other two are linked).

    There is a legitimate debate to be had on the legality of any particular drone strike. However, I don't see how an indescriminant missile fired at a civilian building can ever be moral.

  16. @Michael De Dora,
    "Imagine being able to carry out attacks on highly dangerous terrorists and counter-insurgents without having to put your own people at risk of death. This would seem desirable."
    Desirable perhaps but not realistically possible. 'You kill one of mine and if possible I'll kill two of yours' is the more likely rule that wars are designed to follow.
    And if civilians can be killed to best effect that rule, they will be. All ethical considerations in war in that respect are tactical, since war by definition is inherently unethical.
    @Norwegian Shooter,
    "However, I don't see how an indescriminant missile fired at a civilian building can ever be moral."
    In terms of relative morality, it may be the most moral thing in war that one could do.

  17. Drones are just a technical possibility for making war, which is wrong per se. They help to make war more abstract than before. Maybe you kill less people, but you can make war easier, since you can make fuzzier arguments when things become more abstract. And you can keep a good dose of terror, not to mention that from the point of view of the one that owns the techonology, can make a better war, with a lower cost of lifes. Ultimately, what it could help to avoid war, it makes it easier to happen. Agreements between countries do not avoid killing innocents, and the use of drones facilitates agreements between countries, since in principle they are more chirurgic and more efficient. If you put this in the context of ""war agains terror"", abstract enough by itself, you see how well they fit to each other.
    Less personal implication in war makes also war easier for oneself, and for war itself to happen.

  18. Atheistspitfire has it right re: the ethics of distancing. If a method of killing increases psychological distance, and your ethical issue is that such methods therefore encourage lazy decision making with respect to the employment of violence, you've just subtly switched the conversation from drones back to just war theory.

    i.e. Hector nailed it, first post: in the case of drones, it's a bit of a non-issue.

    I'd say he stretched "non-issue" too far when he applied it to ground troops, however. The (unmentioned) enormous significance attached to ground troops is their ability to "own" land. Only ground troops do this, and they do it as a necessary consequence of their presence. Even if you intend to recall them quickly, they own the land they're on for as long as they're on it. I don't think this significance will ever be obsolete.

    @SimonSays: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unmanned_combat_air_vehicle#Proliferation

  19. Eamon ... putting just war issues aside is VERY MUCH NOT the same thing as assuming a war is just.

    Good effing doorknob, I think you just moved the Overton window into a different zip code with that sleight of mind.

    Putting just war arguments aside means assuming a war is **neither just nor unjust.**

    It's called logic; give it a spin sometime.

  20. i don't think the difference between "assume the war is just" and "assume the war is neither just nor unjust" is all that great (certainly not "VERY MUCH"). and really, i'd submit that the former is probably better in function as it doesn't require you to assume something impossible to continue the discussion.

    and just in case i was confused as to weather you were trying to nit-pick the irrelevancies of Eamon's comment to avoid addressing its substance in good faith, your punch line clarified things quite well.


  21. @BaronP

    "it may be" isn't helpful. If you think a drone strike could be more moral than not striking, then make that argument. Be sure to address the likelihood of civilian causalities, the reliability and accuracy of targeting information, and the evaluation of the prediction that the negative consequences of not killing a target will outweigh the negative consequences of killing the target.

  22. @NShooter
    "it may be" isn't helpful. If you think a drone strike could be more moral than not striking, then make that argument.

    I would except that obviously wasn't my argument.

  23. @Baron P,

    Then by all means tell me what your argument is.

  24. This is really the stuff of parody. The basic thesis is that, once we've decided that our cause is just and the official enemy of the day merits no more consideration than a pest control problem, the only thing left to ponder is the economics of extermination.

    Of course, once we've done that, we shouldn't be surprised to find that we're left with a puzzle. What, after all, could be wrong with hiring the cheapest and most effective exterminator to solve our bug problem? As Eamon helpfully instructs us, we're focusing only on the morality of the specific use of drones. And we're going to do so in such a way as to cleanse our question of any moral dimensions. And viola, a riddle is born.

    Don't confuse questions of practical reason with questions of moral cogency. They're different issues.

    To the point, though, drones are being attacked, first, becuase they are the current weapon of choice, and second, because they are being intentionally deployed to evade issues of sovereignty, legality, due process, symmetry, and the like when one employs an actual army, as distinct from a toy of the CIA, with its total lack of transparency, due process, and the rest. There are other reasons that drones don't sit well with elite commentators--like the fact that their use exposes the basic war narrative--brave heroes protecting us from immediate danger--for the obvious fraud that it is. The critiques that come out, as usual, tend to evade the basic issues, distracting us with extraneous details and debates between the various cheerleading factions. Predictable and shameful.

  25. Drones and other types of persistent surveillance make war MORE personal, since high value targets can be observed in higher resolution and tracked for hours and days. Missiles are getting smaller and more precise, so they can be put through a bedroom window, after a lawyer signs off on the attack. Contrast that with old fashioned carpet bombing and artillery barrages.

    Troops in harm's way are more eager to shoot and get out of harm's way, as seen in the helicopter gunship video published by Wikileaks. And when troops are harmed, their buddies may seek revenge.

    Here's hoping that future wars will be drones versus drones, or better yet, virtually simulated.

  26. Just ran across a new essay from Ralph Nader in which he argues that drones are inherently problematic:


  27. Good timing. On September 30, a drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, propagandist Samir Khan, and possibly the chief bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, after monitoring al-Awlaki for weeks. In case the drone missed, jump jets and special forces were ready to finish the job.

    Several days later, on October 2, a manned Yemeni jet mistakenly bombed a Yemeni army position, killing at least 30 soldiers. So tell me again how drones are inherently problematic compared to manned jets.

  28. To call it drone warfare is wrong, since in reality, it is a drone hunt. War is when two parties are involved in the fight against each other and present in the war field. Although it is true that planes, rockets, tanks, bombs and other weapons have already dehumanized warfare for a long time, drone attack further desensitizes act of war in a fundamental way.

  29. http://touch.slate.com/slate/#!/entry/do-remotecontrol-war-pilots-get-combat-stress,4e9c4abfdd5ab4464d001370

    The idea that drone pilots are protected from the miseries of war is misguided, this article is one of many which detail the human cost to the individual holding the joystick.

  30. Daniel,

    sorry, I feel no sympathy whatsoever for people who kill at a distance as if they were playing video games.

  31. Another upsetting point to drone warfare is their surveillance capabilities. It is wron to me that the US is remotely policing foreign territories. I can only imagine this escalating in the same sense that nuclear warfare has. Would America stand for it's skies being monitored by Pakistan? Would Americans stand for 500 of its own civilians being accidentally killed?

    Certainly not.

  32. erin, if you're concerned about nuclear escalation and proliferation, you should thank your lucky stars for national technical means of verification.

    When Iran announced that it brought down the American stealth drone, Francis Gary Powers Jr., son of the late U-2 pilot, remarked, "When I first heard about the drone, my first thought was thank goodness there wasn't a pilot in it."

    And again, how are drone strikes any worse than manned strikes? It wasn't a CIA drone that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26, but manned NATO gunships.

  33. One ethically you can not make a good judgement about civilian casualties with regard to drones as they are typically pushed under the aegis of government secrecy, technically we have only the government's own reassurances about how accurate or inaccurate they are, in other words no independent verification about how good or bad they really are.

    Two as others have pointed out a drone is different because it removes even the possibility of fatality, assault rifles, missiles, all technically still put people in danger, the drone does not when it comes to warfare, only the people it attacks.

    Three and this is somewhat linked to the technological separation from ecology which seems to make people ignore environmental problems, is that it tends to differ judgement until it reaches crisis levels. To use a analogy of the environment in the world today one of the primary problems we face is that our technology has allowed us to ignore some of the smaller environmental problems we face, however this is only up till the point that the collection of those smaller environmental problems accumulate to the point where our technology no longer can face the big problems when really it would have made more sense to face the smaller ones first. Drone warfare problematically means differed judgement, we convince ourselves it is not a problem because of the lack of our own casualties, but the reality is that they are creating civilian casualties and without knowing what those casualties are, they build up and build up, creating more and more little problems,how long before its a big problem actually requiring troop input or leading to larger attacks on our own soil?, and all this bearing in mind under the aegis of secrecy so we never really know what our nation is actually getting into.

    Four is to me a problem of removing humans from the war fighting equation, we need to have costs imposed on us from warfare, in America though we have increasingly done everything we can to not have those costs at all and instead imposed on someone else. People say they care about the troops but in reality what cost do they take, the troops do in the form of fatalities and bodily damage, but what does the nation, and the elites what price do they pay? The drone warfare is linked to this, a preference to one eliminate cost and two place whatever cost there is on something else. We have a drone do our fighting for us, and next we have robots doing it in the field, and eventually where is the cost to us? Once we were on the brink of nuclear war, a war that would have been won(if you can say it could have been won) by pushing a button, and ten minutes later your adversaries are vaporized. I guess my question is that how long before we can slip to easily into a war, and so as a consequence we never really see the precipice of annihilation until it is too late?

  34. 1) the argument that drones strikes are immoral because it removes the people carrying out an attack from harms way can be applied (to differing degrees) to every military advancement from the spear onward. The underlying objections are the same: that it make war easier, more sanitized, etc. If we're not going to give up guns (let alone, artillery, missiles, bombs) then I don't think there's a way to reason from this argument to morally give up drones.

    2) The argument that it is immoral because it makes it easier for political leaders to enter into wars due to the reduced domestic cost may be true. However the same argument as above applies. Every military advancement since people attacked each other with bare hands face to face does this. (again it's all simply a matter of degrees).

    3) The arguments about blow-back seem to me to be about the ultimate effectiveness of the policy not the ethics.

    I think a true moral question regarding drones (discounting the overall moral question of war itself) regards the effect of the existence of them constantly flying in the skies above (and how they are perceived by) the population below.

    I believe that the drones are actually waging two wars. The first is the officially recognized war against the terrorists:
    We've talked about the strikes themselves: % of civilians killed, etc. We've talked about how the terrorists are disrupted and must hide due to the constant surveillance and threat from the skies.

    However, we haven't heard about what I would describe as the second war. Which is, perhaps an unintended war, against the actual population of the country. It's a psychological war. It could be described as a war of terror. The message: don't do a set of select activities (the specifics of which we won't share with you) or we will kill you, without you first having any recourse to justice or legal appeal.

    This is the part of drone warfare that I believe is immoral. What right does a foreign power have to put a population under constant threat of random death? (i.e. if it's in error)
    -In this way, I don't believe you can compare aerial bombing where the arguments only look at the act of the bombing itself not the ubiquitous nature of the threat on the mindset of the population.
    A rebuttal to this could be that the US has the co-operation and permission of the Yemini or Pakistani governments. So what? If that is the case is it morally okay for the US government to support the terrorizing of a foreign population by it's own government?
    The only time one could say this is not the case, and that the drones were just there waging a war against the terrorists, is if the people beneath them would look up (or hear them in the sky) and feel safer knowing they were up there.

    To look at it through a race or class-based analogy: maybe a white person (or rich person) sees a cop-car and feels safe and protected, while someone of color (or in poverty) sees it and doesn't.
    They don't feel safe because, while they're probably not criminals themselves, they know they are part of the population which is under constant scrutiny and that they have to deal with the outcome of the policies that target the criminals.
    For example: stop and frisk. Maybe more criminals are caught and crime is deterred, however the side effect of it is that an entire population is living with racial profiling, etc. Is this morally okay?
    You could talk about all the good side effects of the policy of stop and frisk, and that even less people of color are victims of crime now as well, etc, etc. But that doesn't actually answer the question of whether it is morally right to racially profile an entire population of people as potential criminals and all the injustice that follows from that.

    This is where I believe drone warfare fails the moral argument. Does the benefactor of asymmetric power have the moral right to surveil and terrorize a population (that it is not at war with) with possible death - indefinitely?

    I believe the answer is no.


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