For my third White Paper proposal, I would like to look into the ethical implications associated with a relatively new tool of warfare: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also known as UAVs or Drones. The inspiration for this proposal comes from a New York Times article that takes a different stance on the issue than many of the media I have been exposed to regarding the subject. The article argues that not only is using robots armed with missiles to strategically take out targets is not only morally permissible, but maybe even morally superior to conventional manned aircraft.
The benefits of Drones and UAVs is obvious from a military perspective. They allow the operators to fly surveillance missions without being detected, strike targets with a relatively high degree of accuracy, or provide support for units on the ground all while not putting the life of an American pilot at risk. Since the early 2000’s, the use of UAVs has become routine and they are a major aspect of all of the United States security operations both domestic and abroad.
Despite all of these advantages, Drone warfare has received a great deal of criticism in recent years. This is primarily due to the increase in civilian deaths as a result of UAV operations in the Middle East. Also, many people do no like the idea of stalking a target unheard and unseen for days and then killing the target before he or she has a chance to realize that they are a target. The more recent adaptation of Drones by domestic law enforcement agencies has many Americans worried about being their rights as citizens being infringed upon. These are just a few examples of the many ethical circumstances that must be considered when discussing UAVs and I think that it is clear that there are plenty of issues that can be discussed in my White Paper.
The reason that this New York Times article intrigued me was that it looks at the advances in Drone technology as a positive development for both the military and the public. While I previously had only really thought about the negative consequences of Drone warfare, I did not realize that maybe it is not so immoral after all. Although there are a large number of civilian deaths associated with UAV strikes, it is possible that the alternatives would produce far more civilian casualties. More conventional methods of eliminating targets on the ground, like using ground troops or smart-bombing, are more indiscriminate because of the human element. It is much easier for a soldier on the ground to mistake a civilian for a militant from 100 yards away than the same task is for a Drone operator. Because of their advanced set of sensors and optics, Drones allow the operators to track a target for days. In doing so, they are better equipped to positively identify their targets, time their attack in order to reduce the number of civilians in the area, and deliver an accurate strike that is confined to a much smaller area.
Although human error and poor intelligence has led to civilian casualties from Drone strikes, I am starting to believe that this type of warfare might not be as bad as every thinks. When compared to the conventional techniques for eliminating hostile targets, are Drone strikes really that bad?