Several weeks ago, Sojourners’s online magazine reprinted a short piece from a UCC (United Church of Christ) pastor on the moral challenges of drone warfare – not just the moral challenges, but the failure of drone warfare to meet important ethical imperatives of the Christian tradition.
The author takes up Christian, just war theory in one paragraph that helpfully points to one fundamental problem with drone warfare as it is presently pursued by the American government:
Some of the parameters of a just war include responding to an imminent threat, not just to a long-standing opponent. They include protecting civilians. They include a sense of proportionality between the force used and the extent of the threat. It’s hard to make a compelling case that the drone attacks meet those standards. Eight years of drone strikes in countries we are not at war with have killed hundreds of civilians. Is this worth the moral cost?
On this I would only quibble with his penultimate sentence, since it is not only that eight years of drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians (though that is the feature of drone warfare that will most animate the debate). It is also that the drones have killed armed men who are in no way an imminent threat. As the author himself indicates, just war theory doesn’t only forbid attacks on civilians, but any attack on soldiers or militias when the threat isn’t immediate.
Another variable in all of this – beyond the ones raised in the Sojourners piece – is the fact that we have (more importantly, perhaps, Americans have) no idea how the kill lists are arrived at or whether they are legitimate (holding in abeyance the legitimacy of the whole enterprise in asking this question.) Who is being killed? And why, exactly?
On this whole subject, here’s another good piece, from Slate’s Will Saletan.