Law, ethics and drone warfare

SCHELLER Kill-chain

The infographic above was produced by Alissa Scheller for an Investigative Reporting Workshop on Drones, and specifically an article by Tara McKelvey on Harold Koh and the legal armature that the Obama administration has sought for its nominally covert program of targeted killing.

Since then (2012) there has been a cascade of essays around these legal and ethical issues; much of the spikiest writing is to be found on the indispensable ssrn, but here are some other essays I’ve just caught up with that readers might also find helpful:

Special issue: ‘Legal and ethical implications of drone warfare’, in International Journal of Human Rights 19 (2) (2015) including:

Michael J. Boyle, ‘The legal and ethical implications of drone warfare’ (pp 105-126)

Stephanie Carvin, ‘Getting drones wrong’ (pp. 127-141)

Craig Martin, ‘A means-methods paradox and the legality of drone strikes in armed combat’ (pp. 142-175)

Daniel R. Brunstetter & Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi, ‘Clashing over drones: the legal and normative gap between the United States and the human rights community’ (pp. 176-198)

David Whetham, ‘Drones to protect’ (pp. 199-210)

Caroline Kennedy & James I. Rogers, ‘Virtuous drones?’ (pp. 210-227)

Symposium: ‘Towards a drone accountability regime‘, in Ethics and International Affairs 1 (2015) with a major contribution from Allen Buchanan and Robert O. Keohane

From a moral standpoint, lethal drones are intrinsically no worse as a means of warfare than bombing or sending commandos to kill enemies. From the perspective of their users, they have six major advantages over more conventional weapons: they are often cheaper; their use can be more readily concealed; they allow for more precise targeting, with the potential for less “collateral damage”; their use can involve less serious infringements of sovereignty than invasion by troops; and they may be less likely to provoke widespread hostile reactions by the population of the country in which they are used than military operations involving troops on the ground. But these advantages generate three major risks: of violating sovereignty, of over-using the military option, and of making it more difficult to identify violations of constraints against targeting noncombatants. To deal with these risks, a Drone Accountability Regime is needed that imposes obligations on states, which in turn would be required to impose them on their agents. Since it would be infeasible to negotiate a treaty-based legal regime at present and for the foreseeable future, the Drone Accountability Regime should be informal and should involve transnational actors as well as states. Its key principle should be transparency, helping enable civil society to hold states accountable, and its central agent would be an Ombudsperson with broad authority to investigate situations and publicize her findings. No institution can ensure that states, or operators, are held fully accountable to appropriate standards of conduct, but such a regime could increase the degree of accountability for the use of lethal drones.

— and critical responses from Neta Crawford, Janina Dill, and David Whetham.

Bianca Baggiarini, ‘Drone warfare and the limits of sacrifice’, Journal of international political theory 11 (1) (2015) 128-44

M.J. Boyle, ‘The race for drones’, Orbis 59 (1) (2015) 76-94

Lindsay Cohn-Warrior, ‘Drones and targeted killing: costs, accountability and US Civil-Military relations’, Orbis 59 (1) (2015) 95-110

Jelena Pejic, ‘Extraterritorial targeting by means of armed drones: some legal implications’, International review of the Red Cross (2015) (online early)

Lauren Wilcox, ‘Drone warfare and making bodies out of place’, Critical studies on security 3 (1) (2015) 127-131

John Williams, ‘Distant intimacy: space, drones and Just War’, Ethics and International Affairs 1 (2015) 93-110

And to widen the discussion and give it substantive depth, see Craig Jones, ‘Lawfare and the juridification of late modern war‘, Progress in human geography (2015) (Online First):

Processes of juridification are a defining feature of late modern war. But geographic accounts of war have generally not considered the role that law plays in shaping its conduct. This paper explores the juridification of war using the concept of lawfare. Lawfare may signal an intensification and shift in the relationship between war and law, but I argue that understanding the nature and extent of these changes requires a careful examination of the historical geographies of war, law and lawfare. Drawing from critical legal approaches I offer a preliminary geographical and historical theorization of lawfare so that we may better understand the relationship between war and law today.

One thought on “Law, ethics and drone warfare

  1. Pingback: A Visualization of the Drone Strike Target Process | proplyds

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