Utah law review, Vol. 2013, no. 5, 2013, p. 1283-1319
This article outlines a series of ways in which drones have been seen as problematic which it is argued are either not specifically humanitarian, or really interested in something else such as what the legal framework applicable to the “war on terror” should be. Separating these very important debates from the humanitarian questions that ought to be asked about drones as such is crucial if one is to make conceptual headway. The author examines the issue of whether there is anything that is specific and/or inherent to drones, and address the question of whether it is that drones cause unwarranted harm to civilians. He seeks to explain how, regardless of the answer to that complicated question, drones are much more likely to be perceived as inflicting excessive damage due to their highly discriminatory potential but also, crucially, the way in which they maximize the safety of the drone operator. If anything, it is this aspect that is most specific and novel about drones. He argues that this absolute safety of the operator not only maximizes states’ ability to minimize collateral harm, as has already been observed elsewhere, but also has the potential to fundamentally alter the laws of war’s tolerance for collateral harm, which was always based on the assumption of a tradeoff between harm to the attacker and to “enemy civilians.” It is this tradeoff that is increasingly at risk of being rendered moot. The author finishes with an attempt to contextualize the drone problem within a larger history of exogenous technological shock to international humanitarian law and how it has addressed them. Overall, the article is interested not just in determining whether drone use may or may not be “legal” but also more broadly how it impacts some of the moral underpinnings of the laws of war.