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Unmanned aerial vehicles also known as drones are being used with increasing frequency in military operations as well as law enforcement tasks for surveillance and offensive purposes. This paper reviews the doctrines invoked by the American government for its use of drones in foreign theatres, particularly in the context of the ongoing “war on terror”. It details the justifi cations provided by the US for using drones even in areas where it is not formally at war and where such attacks are carried out by the CIA, a civilian agency. The article avers that Washington is in breach of the laws of war, regardless of whether killing combatants by remote controlled weapons is morally acceptable and less likely to cause civilian casualties than conventional military action.




The unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as “the drone”, has increasingly become the weapon of choice in the military operations of the United States of America (US). Moral ambiguity about Washington’s drone policy arises from the gray area between law enforcement and warfare. The “law enforcement” approach seeks to foresee threats and retaliates with attacks. It polices and reacts within the traditional model of defence and war. On the other hand, a “war against terror” has no endpoint and its theatre of operation is everywhere on Earth. Drone aircraft are the equivalent of robotic armies discussed in so many science fi ction novels. While drones to some extent do justice by protecting the lives of countrymen and preventing the unnecessary loss of thousands of soldiers, the long-term impact of this approach is not yet known. Popular culture uses terms like “convenient killing”, “death by remote control”, “playstation mentality” and “death machine” to describe drone warfare. Such a fight requires fl exibility and reach beyond the traditional parameters of war and so the strongest ethical argument in favour of drone strikes comes down to effi ciency. The virtues of America’s drone policy include precision targeting, limited collateral damage and preventing troops from going into full combat mode and being killed but each of these has its limits. One hears of targeting errors, tragic accounts of the unintentional killing of innocent bystanders and the fear of drones turning foreign public opinion against the US. When the stakes are so high, is the effi ciency argument enough? Of particular ethical concern are the questions of due process and accountability. Who makes the decisions about targets and whether to execute strikes? What are the procedures and the oversight for those calls? These are all blurred lines.