April 14, 2014

Written by

Bureau Reporter
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ethicists and drone experts discuss the morality of drone warfare in the latest episode of the Bureau’s podcast Drone News.

Dr Alex Leveringhaus of Oxford University and Dr Peter Lee, Portsmouth University lecturer of military ethics who teaches at the RAF College Cranwell, spoke to the Bureau about what they see as the key ethical issues of drone warfare.

Listen to the podcast.

In the podcast, Lee challenged the notion of drone operators having a ‘PlayStation mentality’, emphasising the professionalism of drone operators. He explained how he thinks drones ‘can be, if used properly, the most ethical means of delivering air power’ because they can drop smaller munitions and loiter for long periods, meaning ‘they can spend hours and days ensuring that they have got the right target’.

However, Lee added that drones could increase the risk of lethal force being used. ‘Because there is no aircrew involved, you can see there is a greater political temptation perhaps to want to use [drones] when otherwise there might not be a use of force.’

Previous episode: Noel Sharkey on the unreliability of ‘killer robots’

Leveringhaus said a moral justification for killing in war is ‘the idea that combatants… [are] liable to be killed because they are posing a material threat’ – something lacking in drone war. ‘There is no immediate threat posed to the life of the drone pilot,’ he explained.

He added that he is worried by the vagueness of the test of whether a drone target poses a threat to the US. He said that in his view ‘there needs to be somehow an immediate threat for the use of lethal force to be justified.’

Also in the podcast, the Bureau’s Alice K Ross and Jack Serle discuss these opinions with Chris Cole from Drone Wars UK, an advocacy and research organisation.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter. Subscribe to the Bureau’s drones podcast and newsletter.