Saturday, January 05, 2013

Strawser, The Morality of Drone Warfare Revisited


This guy, Strawser, is good, and his conclusions seem right on the money to me: if the cause is just, then, if drone strikes are (as they appear to be) more discriminating and safer than strikes by manned aircraft, then we should use drones instead of manned aircraft when possible.

There are a lot of bad arguments against Strawser's position...largely because there are a lot of bad arguments against everything...but the most important criticism I know of goes like this:

Using drones can seduce us into employing violence when we otherwise wouldn't have, because they don't put U.S. personnel at risk. Consider Pakistan. Without drones, we'd be striking less in the tribal areas. We might have risked a strike or two by manned aircraft...but certainly not the number of attacks we now see. Thus drones, though they can reduce civilian casualties by making strikes more discriminating, can also have the effect of increasing the number of strikes, thus potentially increasing the number of civilian casualties overall.

And, even putting civilian casualties aside, one can argue that any tendency to increase the number of airstrikes is bad. This criticism seems to assume that the additional strikes are unjustified or otherwise bad, which isn't necessarily true, especially if we're already operating under the assumption that the war in question is just (and that the additional strikes are strikes in that war)...but a more cautious version of this criticism might note that violence is generally bad, and that it generally shouldn't be undertaken lightly, and that when drones lower the risk to U.S. personnel, they encourage us to use violence with less reflection. And that is bad.

Those criticisms obviously depend on some empirical claims that may or may not be true.

None of this, of course, addresses anything about the double-secret criteria that allow the President to kill people...  Strawser's argument isn't about that. But those issues do have to be resolved at some point.


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