Books  |    |  May 30, 2013

Killing by Remote Control: The Ethics of an Unmanned Military

Book edited by Bradley Jay Strawser.
Published by Oxford University Press.
296 pages.

Addresses a topic of contemporary debate: whether the use of an unmanned military is ethical.

The increased military employment of remotely operated aerial vehicles, also known as drones, has raised a wide variety of important ethical questions, concerns, and challenges. Many of these have not yet received the serious scholarly examination such worries rightly demand. This volume attempts to fill that gap through sustained analysis of a wide range of specific moral issues that arise from this new form of killing by remote control. Many, for example, are troubled by the impact that killing through the mediated mechanisms of a drone half a world away has on the pilots who fly them. What happens to concepts such as bravery and courage when a war-fighter controlling a drone is never exposed to any physical danger? This dramatic shift in risk also creates conditions of extreme asymmetry between those who wage war and those they fight. What are the moral implications of such asymmetry on the military that employs such drones and the broader questions for war and a hope for peace in the world going forward? How does this technology impact the likely successes of counter-insurgency operations or humanitarian interventions? Does not such weaponry run the risk of making war too easy to wage and tempt policy makers into killing when other more difficult means should be undertaken?

Killing By Remote Control directly engages all of these issues. Some essays discuss the just war tradition and explore whether the rise of drones necessitates a shift in the ways we think about the ethics of war in the broadest sense. Others scrutinize more specific uses of drones, such as their present use in what are known as “targeted killing” by the United States. The book similarly tackles the looming prospect of autonomous drones and the many serious moral misgivings such a future portends.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jeff McMahan

I. Just War Theory and the Permissibility to Kill by Remote Control

  • Introduction: The Moral Landscape of Unmanned Weapons — Bradley J. Strawser
  • Just War Theory and Remote Military Technology: A Primer — Matthew Hallgarth
  • Distinguishing Drones: An Exchange — Asa Kasher and Avery Plaw

II. The Ethics of Drone Employment

  • Drones and Targeted Killing: Angels or Assassins? — David Whetham
  • War without Virtue? — Robert Sparrow
  • Robot Guardians: Teleoperated Combat Vehicles in Humanitarian Military Intervention — Zack Beauchamp and Julian Savulescu
  • Counting the Dead: The Proportionality of Predation in Pakistan — Avery Plaw
  • The Wizard of Oz Goes to War: Unmanned Systems in Counterinsurgency — Rebecca J. Johnson
  • Killing Them Safely: Extreme Asymmetry and Its Discontents — Uwe Steinhoff

III. Autonomous Drones and the Future of Unmanned Weaponry

  • Engineering, Ethics & Industry: the Moral Challenges of Lethal Autonomy — George R. Lucas, Jr.
  • Autonomous Weapons Pose No Moral Problem — Stephen Kershnar

About the Editor
Bradley Strawser is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. He is also a Research Associate with Oxford’s Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict. A prior Air Force Officer himself, Strawser’s work specializes on the moral questions surrounding war and military ethics.