Are US drones ethical?
Whether drones should be used in the US is the wrong question. Americans should be asking: Is it ethical to use drones anywhere? Is it fair to search for security for ourselves at the expense of perpetual insecurity for others?
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They also reveal a sense of inferiority and embarrassment when a large, powerful country arrives on (over) their soil to make decisions about who will live and die, how much civilian death is acceptable, and how a “militant” will be defined (loosely, it turns out). Citizens in these countries worry that all of these drones are creating even more extremism and terror at home. And they incredulously ask whether drones are not themselves a form of terror.Skip to next paragraph
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The American public is not debating these issues and engaging in dialogue with those most affected by US drone policies. If Americans elicited those voices, we could ask: Are we creating acute conditions of insecurity in other countries when individuals constantly live in fear of death falling from the sky? Is it fair to search for security for ourselves at the expense of perpetual insecurity for others? Are drones really the best alternative for the welfare of everyone, both in the short term and long term?
Domestic and international legal questions about drones reflect deeply held American values, but legal discussions fail to make sense of how these values might be reconciled in the face of specific ethical dilemmas. Nor do they recognize and grapple with the values and anxieties of other communities. And both the Bush and Obama administrations have demonstrated that it is easy to provide legal justification for controversial policies. Legal debates can distract us from urgent ethical questions.
Relationships that feature intense violence and vulnerability deserve deep reflection and deliberation. Indeed, if there are to be “new rules” in a continuing and more expansive war against terror (what the Obama administration calls its Overseas Contingency Operation), America should listen to those who are most impacted by those “new rules.”
Perhaps the prospect of armed drones hovering above Americans is ultimately a productive step for taking these ethical questions seriously if it leads us to imagine how whole populations feel about the continuous possibility that right now, in the company of friends and in their own homes, they could be in the crosshairs of a drone.
Jack L. Amoureux is a visiting assistant professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University who teaches “The Politics of Technology and Violence.”