Congratulations to JU Professor of Philosophy Erich Freiberger, whose article “Just War Theory and the Ethics of Drone Warfare” has been published at e-International Relations (e-IR), the world’s leading website for students of international politics with a readership of 1.5 million. Freiberger discusses the Obama administration’s ethics and rationalization for using drones.
Here are some excerpts:.
Early in J.J. Abrams film Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount 2013), Captain Kirk is faced with a moral dilemma. Should he follow his orders and fire a missile into enemy territory from afar to kill a known terrorist, or should he risk sending his men into foreign territory to try to capture him? This choice is no accident. It is an allegory about the morality of the drone war, and the dilemmas it poses are those we face today. As in Star Trek, we have this amazing technology that can apparently be employed with little risk to our own forces, but its improper use poses an enormous risk to our way of life. How can we be certain we have identified an appropriate target? Is it enough to simply trust high government officials? What is the right way to use such weapons? In what follows, I will consider how ethics and the just war tradition illuminate these questions in a way that clearly shows what is missing in the Obama administration’s approach to the use of drones.
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The administration’s justification of the use of drones risks becoming an Orwellian recipe for a perpetual war, as Obama has acknowledged in his May 23 speech. He is right to be uneasy about the way the war has been prosecuted, but without a great deal more transparency on the how the administration will interpret the question of imminence, it is not at all clear that his proposed changes will make any difference in the prosecution of the war. If the war neither has future peace as its goal, nor a reasonable chance of success, it is extremely difficult to argue that it is just. What the President’s speech marks is an intent to shift counter terrorism policy—from CIA to military control, from “signature strikes” towards a more rigorous process of vetting of targets, from force protection to focusing only on “high value Al-Queda” targets —but apart from signing a new “Presidential Policy Guidance,” on May 22, this shift has not yet been institutionalized in a way that will guarantee any real change. And it apparently will only happen after “we finish the work of defeating al Queda and its associated forces.” This shift in strategy does little more than announce an intent to think about the war in a new way, but he has yet to take any concrete action that changes how it will be waged that will bring greater transparency into the process of determining what constitutes an “imminent threat.” Without further detail on the mechanisms that will be employed in such a process it is impossible to say that the drone war is just as the president claims.
Obama has discarded Bush’s phrase, the “War on Terror” and has instead started calling these strikes a war against “al-Qaeda and associated forces.” But is there really any difference if the names are being twisted to suit the convenience of those who use them and the enemy they name is not at all clear? While it is true that our enemies lurk in the shadows, how can killing people ever result in a lasting peace when we aren’t even sure we have correctly identified who they are? As Steven Coll has remarked: “A war against a name is a war in name only” (Coll 2013).
Ethics, in contrast, insists that we hew to the meaning of words and treat them consistently. If our moral language is to have any meaning, reason and the Just War tradition both suggest that distorting the meaning of the word imminence is not enough to justify the use of drones. If we want to call their use just, the administration needs to either find a better justification, or make a more concerted effort to limit their use in a much more transparent way.
Read the entire article here.