According to US government statements, drones succeed in killing terrorists while minimizing the risk to noncombatants, thus suggesting that they satisfy the jus in bello proportionality criterion. Scholars, however, are divided on whether drones are truly proportionate. What does it really mean to say drones are, or are not, proportionate? How are we to judge the proportionality of the CIA's drone program? We expose the fallacy of drone proponents who claim they are proportionate by repudiating what we call proportionality relativism – the use of impertinent comparisons to argue that drones are proportionate because they cause less collateral damage than other uses of force. We then analyze the existing data on drone strikes to expose problematic differences in how the US military and the CIA understand proportionality balancing. Finally, we employ what Walzer calls the category of jus ad vim – the just use of force short of war – to assess the ethics of drones. Jus ad vim demands a stricter relationship between the use of force short of war and the jus in bello principles of proportionality and discrimination, as well as human rights concerns of civilians not usually considered in the proportionality calculus, that severely restricts the scope of proportionality balancing. Assessing the CIA's use of drones in Pakistan according to this standard casts a dark shadow on claims that CIA drones are proportional.
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