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Pros And Cons Of A Weapons System

Namrata Goswami

Edited by David Cortright , Rachel Fairhurst and Kristen Wall 
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2015, pp. 288, $45.00


Drones, or remotely piloted aircrafts, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), so to speak, have added a new dimension to the way war is conducted in the 21st century. Drones, besides being used as lethal weapons of war, have added functions of being instruments used for collection of intelligence and surveillance. Proponents of the use of drones in warfare, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency believe that drones have made it possible to target the enemy without much collateral damage (civilian casualties). The added advantage of a drone is that not only can it hover over an area of operation for a long time, but also it does not require manpower in the line of fire, thereby removing the greatest limitations states face in war: body bags. The book under review is an interesting take on the use of drones especially by the United States military. Several authors in the book debate on three significant aspects of the use of drones; the strategic, the legal and the ethical. Since weaponized drones were first used in November 2001 (p. 2), that killed senior al Qaeda leader, Mohammad Atef, their usage has only increased given the nature of counterterrorism that requires extended presence of drones to collect information. Shrouded in secrecy, the drones programme of the United States was only acknowledged in 2013 when President Obama gave a major speech announcing guidelines for the use of drones amidst criticism from lawyers and Human Rights activists on the programmes on subjugation of privacy and human liberty (pp. 3– 4). Reports of the use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, and the subsequent civilian deaths from drone strikes raised the tempo of criticism. The secrecy connected to the US drone programme only heightens the view that its usage has compromised the laws of war and sovereignty of states guaranteed by the United Nations Charter. With regard to the ethical dimensions of drone use, those who support it argue that the precision offered by its technology vindicates the discriminate use of force. This line of argument has been supported by Martin Cook’s essay (pp. 46–62) in which the author argues that drones are ethically permissible due to their tactical precision. Yet, this only enables states to use drones more indiscriminately given the assurance that these weapons systems are discriminate and proportionate, the classic inference from Jus in Bello (Right conduct in war) from the Just War theory. Also, since drones are being used increasingly ...

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