Lethal and Legal The Ethics of Drone Strikes
U.S. Army War College Carlisle United States
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With greatly increased lethal use of unmanned aerial vehicles UAVs comes greater scrutiny and controversy. This monograph lays out the ethical and legal landscape in which drone killings take place and makes key recommendations not only for ensuring legality and a sound moral basis for operations, but alsofor ensuring those operations are effective. While supporters claim that drone warfare is not only legal but ethical and wise, others have suggested that drones are prohibited weapons under International Humanitarian Law IHL because they cause, or have the effect of causing indiscriminate killings of civilians, such as those in the vicinity of a targeted person. The main legal justification made by the Barack Obama administration for the use of armed drones is self-defense. However, there is ambiguity as to whether this argument can justify a number of recent attacks by the United States. In order to determine the legality of armed drone strikes, other factors such as sovereignty, proportionality, the legitimacy of individual targets, and the methods used for the selection of targets must also be considered. The ethical landscape is also ambiguous. One justification is the reduced amount of collateral damage possible with drones relative to other forms of strike. Real-time eyes on target allow last-minute decisions and monitoring for unintended victims, and precise tracking of the target through multiple systems allows further refinements of proportionality. But this is of little benefit if the definition of targets is itself flawed and encompasses noncombatants and unconnected civilians.