Drone Warfare Debate at the Oxford Union

Congratulations to Co-Conspirator Ilya on his Senate testimony on drone warfare yesterday – I had a chance to read and offer some comments on his written submission and it is sensible and smart as Ilya always is.  There’s stuff Ilya, I, and other should take up here; although I’m broadly in the same camp as Ilya, I have some disagreements and particularly on whether there is a role for the judiciary in targeting decisions, on either the front or back end (I think not).  For now, however, I wanted to flag a couple of different things related to targeted killing and drone warfare.

First, Benjamin Wittes (Brookings senior fellow and editor in chief of Lawfare, the leading national security law blog) and I will be appearing on the pro side of a debate on drones tomorrow night, April 25,  at the Oxford Union.  Our third pro debater is London journalist David Aaronovitch.  For the opposers, count the formidable team of philosopher and NYU law professor Jeremy Waldron, Columbia Law School’s Naureen Shah, and Chris Cole of the UK campaigning organization DroneWars.  The Oxford Union puts up YouTube videos after the event; it should be great fun, though I am perhaps the least qualified professor to engage in Oxford Union-style debate.  The proposition for debate is, “Drone Warfare is ethical and effective.”  To which the answer has to be, yes, in some circumstances, no, in others, and it’s complicated.  Of course, I’m on the pro side because I think it a good and valuable tool of national security in many circumstances, not just rare and hypothetical ones.  Anyway, I have acquired a tuxedo for the occasion, and I will post a photo of my special cognition-enhancing braces, along with a link to video when available.

Second, check out the latest in a remarkable series of Lawfare guest-posts by Pepperdine law school professor Gregory McNeal, this one on ways in which the process of targeted killing and drone warfare can be strengthened and made more accountable.  The key thing in Greg’s account is that – unlike many “reforms” that are just stalking horses for the real agenda, to end the practice altogether – his suggestions for possible reforms do not propose to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Again, I plan to discuss these at greater length once I’m back from London, and hope to involve Ilya and others in the discussion. But that post links to his earlier guest-posts, as well as to the academic article from which this is drawn.  Greg McNeal has spent an considerable amount of time interviewing on and off the record people involve directly in targeted killing and drone strikes, and understands better than anyone I know (including journalists) outside of government how this works in practice – the combined space of law, regulation, and actual practice at the nitty gritty level.

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