Was the Godfather a moral actor? Truth be told, I really don’t know. Though I’d wager there is an undergraduate philosophy class somewhere that has addressed this issue.
Are drones a moral weapon of war? This is a bit more pertinent to homeland security. It is a question addressed in a New York Times article this past weekend. The takeaway:
So it may be a surprise to find that some moral philosophers, political scientists and weapons specialists believe armed, unmanned aircraft offer marked moral advantages over almost any other tool of warfare.
As technology allows for ever more precise military strikes, the call for limiting to eliminating civilian casualties grows louder. This is not a bad thing–but within a generation or two it has escalated to a constant, underlying condition of carrying out military operations. Again–not a bad thing. But an unusual thing when one considers the “strategic” bombing campaigns of WWII, plans for thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union, and B-52 strikes during the Vietnam War.
AVERY PLAW, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, put the C.I.A. drone record in Pakistan up against the ratio of combatant deaths to civilian deaths in other settings. Mr. Plaw considered four studies of drone deaths in Pakistan that estimated the proportion of civilian victims at 4 percent, 6 percent, 17 percent and 20 percent respectively.
In conventional military conflicts over the last two decades, he found that estimates of civilian deaths ranged from about 33 percent to more than 80 percent of all deaths.
The ever-increasing accuracy and ever-decreasing number of civilian deaths raises another question:
The drone’s promise of precision killing and perfect safety for operators is so seductive, in fact, that some scholars have raised a different moral question: Do drones threaten to lower the threshold for lethal violence?
As a personal opinion and not a moral judgment or philosophical conclusion, I have no problems with the use of drone strikes in our current effort against Al Qaeda-linked terrorists. What does trouble me, along with many others who have given far greater consideration to this issue, is what comes next. Other nations are already developing their own drones. There is no doubt that they will soon be used for targeted killings. But instead of aiming at those we consider national security threats, the point-of-view might be different and a political dissident or controversial opposition figure could be the target.
Given the standards we are setting today, with what arguments will we argue against these strikes in the future?