The Common Good
July 2013

What's Wrong with Drones?

by Duane Shank | July 2013

Under Christian ethics, drone warfare is neither just nor moral.

SOME CHRISTIANS seeking moral guidance about drone warfare find enough clear teaching in Jesus’ command to love our enemies and respond to conflict with principled, active nonviolence. Other Christian traditions, seeking to restrict and limit warfare, have developed principles of “just war,” which deem certain acts of war immoral and illegitimate. Targeted killings by drones, which have become key elements of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy, fail the test of morality on a number of grounds:

1. Targeted assassinations outside of legally declared wars violate international law, which prohibits a country from carrying out military attacks in or against the territory of countries with which it is not at war. Drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia violate this prohibition.

2. They violate the sovereignty of other countries. The government of Pakistan has repeatedly objected to drone strikes on its territory, calling them a “clear violation of our sovereignty and a violation of international law,” but its concerns have been repeatedly ignored.

3. There is little transparency or accountability. CIA drones are remotely controlled, primarily from Air Force bases in the United States, with no clear accountability, and with the targeting sometimes based on dubious intelligence.

4. They set a dangerous precedent. More than 70 countries now possess drone aircraft. While most of these drones are not armed, that is clearly the next step. The covert use of combat drones by the U.S. and the rapid expansion of the U.S. armed drone program represent escalations into a new kind of arms race.

5. They foster a perpetual state of war. Without the risk to troops on the ground, it becomes too easy to use violent force to respond to conflict. “Force protection” has been one incentive to make war a choice of last resort. The use of unpiloted aircraft eliminates that consideration.

6. They kill innocents. Much is made of the alleged precision of drone strikes. Yet whether through faulty intelligence, mistakes, or a willingness to accept “collateral damage,” hundreds of innocent people, including children, have been killed in drone attacks.

7. They promote the concept of a global battlefield. The decision to define Sept. 11 as a “war on terror” rather than as law enforcement against criminals creates an endless and virtually unrestrained war across national boundaries. In a borderless battlefield, “just war” limits become meaningless and exit strategies impossible.

8. Drones undermine U.S. security. Some have called them “al Qaeda’s best recruiting tool,” as drone attacks anger targeted populations and are a factor in fostering violent actions against the U.S.

Drone warfare—conducted by pilots thousands of miles away, disregarding national borders, unregulated by law, and lacking accountability by transparency or oversight—is a neither just nor moral way for the U.S. to respond to terrorist threats.

Duane Shank is senior policy adviser for Sojourners. A version of this appeared on the God’s Politics blog.

Image: Combat drone, Paul Fleet / Shutterstock.com

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