By @SimonCocking

In this book, five scholars square off in a lively debate over the ethics of drones and their contentious use. Book available for sale from Palgrave Macmillan here. Editorial review on Amazon here. See more about main author Bradley Jay Strawser on his blog here.

This is a book that mainly debates when it is ethical to use drones to kill people. Yes I know, at this point you feel like you’ve walked into a US bar in the middle of a heated conversation about gun control for selected weapons only. As you may know we have recently featured a lot of articles about the exciting and varied potential uses of drones in the future. Funnily enough in none of those pieces has anyone been advocating the use of drones for state sponsored assassinations / murder / or removal ‘with least collateral damage to bystanders’. We made up the last term but there are plenty of linguistic word plays to remove the use of anything referring to what military targeted drones have been used for.

If you want to argue eloquently about the moral ins and outs of using state sponsored drones to remove potential ‘baddies’ from your list, then this is the book for you. For the rest of those reading this book it does suggest that debates on the ethics of using drones for targeted seek and destroy campaigns are highly problematic. You wonder if US readers may find this view to be very woolly and liberal. However in the book it does, at least briefly, raise significant issues for concern.

  1. Use of drones is currently one sided. The US and it’s allies are using them, on foreign shores, while the same is not happening stateside.
  2. The selection of ‘legitimate’ targets is highly problematic. Some definitions have included anyone over the age of 18 in the area as being considered a legitimate target, with those under this age as unfortunate collateral damage.
  3. The use of ‘double-tab’ drone strikes. In plain English this is the sending of a second drone in to the scene of the impact of the first drone to attack (kill) those who came to help those hit and hurt in the first attack.

In these aspects the book is a useful read in terms of raising awareness around the potential, and actual misuse of drones for advancing destructive and deadly activities. However far too much of the book seems concerned with the semantics of what is a legitimate use of drones in targeted assassinations rather than questioning this type of usage in general. If you were to look for an optimistic interpretation of this topic it is perhaps that, as with so many innovations, they are first developed by the military, before wider commercial and beneficial uses for humanity are developed.


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