Drones aren’t the (only) problem

Arni Zachariassen has a good post responding to Jack Hunter’s article at The American Conservative on why pro-lifers should oppose drone strikes. Arni points out that drones are more precise and kill fewer innocent people than conventional war, so unless you’re a pacifist, simply opposing drones on “pro-life” grounds doesn’t wash. If, on the other hand, you think that the use of lethal force is sometimes justified in self-defense, it’s hard to see why the use of drones is categorically wrong.

I think getting clear on this is helpful because focusing on the drones as such tends to distract from bigger institutional problems with the program. Chief among these in my mind are the lack of transparency and accountability inherent in the process used to decide who’s going to be on the business end of a drone. The fact that the targets on the “kill list” are dispatched by drones is less morally troubling than the list itself. Moreover, as National Review‘s (!) Ramesh Ponnuru argued yesterday, it’s far from clear to what extent drone strikes are killing civilians, and the secrecy of the program makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make an informed moral judgment.

More broadly, as C.K. MacLeod recently reminded us, the drone war is rooted in the 2001 authorization to use military force, which effectively gave the president (whoever he or she happens to be) a blank cheque to use any means at his or her disposal to pursue al-Qaeda and any other terrorist groups. This incredibly broad authority makes something like the kill-list/drone program virtually inevitable and is part and parcel of the ongoing militarization of America.

Reversing this trend would be a much bigger task than eliminating a particular technology. Our reliance on military means to solve problems is far more pervasive and entrenched than that. And it’s not going to change any time soon, no matter who wins today’s election.

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One thought on “Drones aren’t the (only) problem”

  1. The use of drones is just the logical outgrowth of progress in technology wedded to the desire to limit the vulnerability of troops. It seems like once you start down the ‘war is ok’ path, you should see this coming. It reminds me of when in the middle ages, the new use of archery in war was considered cowardly and unfair because combatants weren’t meting face to face. Glad I’m a pacifist ;)

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