The Common Good

DRONE WATCH: Are Drones “Humane”?

German author and journalist, Dirk Kurbjuweit, in an essay in DER SPIEGEL,reports that the German military is considering whether it should buy armed drones. Given that Germany is relatively scrupulous in matters of war,” he writes, “the unmanned aircraft seems to be the ideal weapon for the country.” But he then notes the questions that raises in regard to pride, humanity and the law, and argues that so-called “humane” drones are, in fact, the most brutal of weapons.

The fundamental question is an ongoing discussion over “whether humane weapons are even feasible. In other words, is it possible to create weapons that somehow protect perpetrators or lessen the damage to victims? In this context, the word humane is not an absolute but a relative concept, referring to a weapon that is less horrific than other weapons.”

One of the arguments for humaneness is the precision of the missiles, that they do not destroy as much of the area surrounding their target and thus produce fewer civilian casualties than bombing attacks from aircraft. They also pose no risk to the force using them, further reducing the casualties of war. On the other hand, their relative humaneness makes their use more likely; and the targeted executions of alleged terrorists are dubious under international law.

Kurbjuweit concludes:

“A humane approach to war is a complex issue. Drones seem relatively humane, but that perception only increases the temptation to use them. They spare one's own troops, which is good, but they pose a great threat to civilians, which is terrible. As a result, the humane approach gives rise to a special form of inhumanity. …

But no one should allow themselves to be seduced by the idea that this weapon is humane or good. A drone armed with missiles exposes the essential nature of war in an especially clear way. Because a drone hunts down an individual, the slaughter loses its anonymity. The victim acquires a name and a face, and it becomes abundantly clear what war is all about: the destruction of human beings.”