Essay on the Questionable Ethics of Drone Warfare and Drone Attacks

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The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, as a means of destruction or harm has been debated in the media for many years now. Since Barack Obama’s arguably ‘most controversial legacy’, increased speculation about the ethics, accuracy and the just war theories has arisen. Critics argue that the west has attempted to humanize warfare due to its ‘bloodless’ nature when using drones bidding to reduce the mental repercussions associated with committing violent crimes of murder. The US’ disclosure of the statistics associated with the deaths of civilians have also been investigated due to the minimum risk of collateral damage been suggested otherwise. From a political and financial standpoint, drones cannot be dismissed as an effective warfare strategy, however the ethical implications are severe and should not be overlooked.

The drone itself is said to be notoriously reliable due to the dynamic targeting and optimum target discrimination, however this is being tested as they rely on human intelligence and can ultimately be subject to ‘faulty intelligence’. These consequences are detrimental and have led to the use of UAVs being wildly unpopular in specific groups of civilians, further made apparent by the 9% of Pakistanis supporting the CIA’s use of drones in Pakistani territory. An airstrike conducted by NATO in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of between 70 and 125 innocent civilians who were falsely identified as ‘Taliban insurgents’. This has been an issue in Yemen where a wedding convoy was bombed, as well as a hospital in Afghanistan. This injustice for many innocent civilians displays the necessity of stricter protocols in regard to targeting with drones. Furthermore, the USA’s integrity has been questioned due to the inconsistency in civilian casualties within data published by the US compared to ‘The Long War Journal’. This discrepancy was explained by Mr. Obamas counter terrorism advisor, John O. Brennan, who explains that some casualties are not counted as civilian casualties because people in known areas of terrorist activity “are probably up to no good”. This attitude employed by the US highlights the lack of investigation into the targets of the drones who the US presume to be guilty unless proven innocent, going against the presumption of innocence. Moreover, this may be a reason for the accidental killing of two-dozen Pakistani soldiers, who were misidentified as extremist militants, or the strike of supposed PKK militants who were low-level criminals smuggling gasoline. Although there are comparatively fewer consequences than many alternative methods would have caused, the number of civilian deaths is higher than people think due to the US publications of causalities and this issue still exists majorly.

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The process of attacking both terrorists, civilians and soldiers through the use of drones has been dehumanized arguably reducing the psychological and physical risk to the operators. This is due to the minimal exposure and low-risk nature, leaving critics to question the ethics behind killing someone by 'manipulating a computer joystick'. The referral of their targets as 'bugsplats' and 'squirters' displays the 'play station mentality' that can be evident for some drone operators. Military operations are described as seemingly 'less impactful' due to the simplicity and accuracy of the process. Drone warfare enables operators to end multiple lives by simply pressing a button, dulling some of the implications that can be associated with assassination such as guilt and not having to watch that person die. The removal of the soldier from the battlefield significantly reduces the risk of harm to the drone operator, sitting somewhere in their own country, these 'armchair' soldiers face no physical risk of harm, further highlighting the game-like characteristics. This 'riskless' warfare undermines the reciprocal nature that we know as war, the traditional attacks between soldiers are somewhat morally justified due to mutual exposure of risks. Is it acceptable for someone to kill, but not be willing to die at the same time? However, some suggest these soldiers responsible for targeting terrorist groups are more likely to be accurate and pose less risk to civilians due to the ability to take their time, assured that they, personally, are facing no risk. This does not change the 'defenceless' nature of this new-age war being conducted. The ethical implications are further uncovered in a political sense, in the instance of the Pakistani government. Described as 'dubious', Obama’s drone program has uncovered that the Pakistani government both privately supports and publicly condemns the drone attacks.

One of the core principles of just war, jus in bello, refers to how the war should be fought and conducted in a just manner. In relation to drone warfare, there is concern surrounding the indiscriminate nature and disproportionality of drone strikes. Due to the need to discriminate legitimate targets from civilians by the military in order to abide to jus in bello, further care must be taken. As earlier mentioned, a number of killings of presumed terrorists have taken place when in fact these people are innocent, demonstrating the struggle of drone warfare to satisfy the condition of discrimination. In further satisfying jus in bello, proportionality must be satisfied, this requires that the harm caused not outweigh the tactical or strategic advantage gained through military force. Jus ad bellum refers when it is necessary to go to war. Concerns of if there is a ‘just cause’ to go to war surround drone warfare due to the argument of if drones can be used as a means of self-defense. Self-defense allows a state to be granted an exception from the prohibiting of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Whilst the US is obliged to safeguard their civilians from any threat, the extent of these drone attacks controversial in the extensive attacks of al-Qaeda and its associates. Although pre-emptive attacks are just, they are still guarded by jus ad bellum and must be proportional. Further, jus ad bellum implies that once the adversary can no longer inflict harm 'deadly force' must cease, similarly, 'preventive aggression' cannot be justified. Although the US have embraced drones as a means of targeting terrorist groups, specifically for the ‘War on Terror’, much controversy surrounds the legality of drones used to instigate targeted killings.

In summary, drone warfare and drone attacks are controversial primarily because of the questionable ethics surrounding both the process of killing people from an armchair as well as the way it aligns with the just war core principles, jus in bello and jus ad bellum. It is difficult to classify this warfare as meeting ‘proportionality’ and ‘discrimination’ as well as being difficult to justify as a means of ‘self-defense’. Further to this, the misleading civilian death statistics, originally published by the US have also led to controversy due to many more civilian deaths that these notoriously reliable have caused than previously thought. Although drone warfare is cheap and relatively effective, the ethical implications are extreme and involve individuals with no defense being faced with unpreventable destruction.

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Essay on the Questionable Ethics of Drone Warfare and Drone Attacks. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
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