David Cortright on Drones

Notre Dame’s David Cortright writes at CNN.com on the spread of weaponized drones (Chris Borgen, thanks).  He says in part:

Any development that makes war appear to be easier or cheaper is dangerous and morally troubling. It lowers the political threshold of war. It threatens to weaken the moral presumption against the use of armed force.

This is a widely spread meme in the anti-drone literature these days, and many people seem to regard it as a slam dunk against drones.  But is this a good moral argument?  “Any development”?  Suppose that the “development” is a drone that produces both far fewer civilian casualties and increased protection for the forces using them?  In that case, the technology is a win-win from the standpoint of the conduct of warfare, the jus in bello.

Precisely the reason why it is more attractive for how to conduct warfare – it is more precise and discriminating – is why Cortright objects to it on grounds of jus ad bellum – that it makes the resort to force easier.  (One may, of course, dispute the premises that the weapon is more discriminating, but frankly fewer and fewer serious observers do so.)  Cortright is saying that it is a bad idea to have more precise weapons because, by sparing civilians and forces, one might resort more easily to force.

I think that’s a bad moral argument – a wrongful moral argument – and I’ve written at length on it here.  It’s wrong because at bottom it says, don’t use the most precise technology, which is to say, we need to hold those civilians hostage against the possibility that there might be more instances of the use of force.  I think we call that using people as “mere” means.

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