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Drone Warfare, and a Moral Foreign Policy.

Drones, by contrast, allow for more time to identify targets, to deliberate about targeting decisions, to consult military lawyers and to check and re-check the sites under potential attack. Moreover, the information available on screen is much better readable than in the cockpit of an air fighter.

In other words, drones seem to offer much better chances of living up to the requirements of distinction and proportionality in warfare. Not surprisingly, states that are using drones never get tired telling the story of the legal and moral superiority of drone warfare. After all, who would not prefer targeted killings over untargeted killings? And indeed, because of their technical capabilities, drones make an almost perfect fit for states engaged in killings in the twilight zone of war and peace.

The ethics of violent technologies

Where for example the US sees drone warfare as the humanitarian alternative to full-scale war, some critics view them as extra-judicial killings that violate basic human rights. Even if one — if only for the sake of argument — would accept that targeted killings take place in times of armed conflict, several other pivotal questions remain. One question concerns the legal nature of the armed conflict. Under the laws of armed conflict, there are only two types of conflict: international or non-international.

Another set of questions regards the determination of targeted persons.

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In targeted killing operations, however, the person concerned is seldom a combatant in the traditional legal sense of the word. They are construed as lawful military targets, yet denied the privileges of prisoners of war — and, as in Guantanamo, even the basic fair trial protections of ordinary suspects.

While drones thus offer better possibilities to live up to basic obligations under the laws of armed conflict, in practice they are used in ways that challenge the very foundations of this legal regime.


  • Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies.
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  • Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies | Council on Foreign Relations.
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There is also the question of net utility: To what extent are the specific benefits derived from drone strikes offset by the reality that the strikes often alienate the local government and population? And there is the reality that drones are proliferating but, as is often the case with new technologies, the international legal and regulatory framework is lagging behind.


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Defense Technology. Terrorism and Counterterrorism.

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies | Council on Foreign Relations

Military Operations. Zenko puts forward a substantive agenda. He argues that the United States should end so-called signature strikes, which target unidentified militants based on their behavior patterns and personal networks, and limit targeted killings to a limited number of specific terrorists with transnational ambitions.

production.ecolearning.org.uk/135.php He also calls Congress to improve its oversight of drone strikes and to continue restrictions on armed drone sales. Finally, he recommends that the United States work internationally to establish rules and norms governing the use of drones. Reforming U. Drone Strike Policies raises an important and underexamined set of issues. It analyzes the potentially serious consequences, both at home and abroad, of a lightly overseen drone program and makes recommendations for improving its governance.