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The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Contemporary Conflict: A Legal and Ethical Analysis

Sarah E. Kreps

Cornell University

John Kaag

University of Massachusetts Lowell

March 15, 2012

The increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in contemporary conflict has stirred debate among politicians, government officials, and scholars. Spokespeople for the U.S. government often highlight the precision of UAVs and argue that this quality enables military action to comply with the international humanitarian law principles of distinction and proportionality. This article criticizes the technologically advanced weapons on the same ground on which the U.S. government has defended them: meeting international standards of distinction and proportionality. The article opens with a discussion of the legal implications of Just War theory. It then offers a critique of the politico-military discourse surrounding UAVs and presents a philosophical framework that might lessen the confusion surrounding the ethics of modern warfare. The article closes with a discussion of the various ways that defenders of the UAVs overstate the ability of technology to answer difficult legal and political questions that the principles of distinction and proportionality pose.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 26

Keywords: international humanitarian law, just war theory, ethics, conflict, technology

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Date posted: March 15, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Kreps, Sarah E. and Kaag, John, The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Contemporary Conflict: A Legal and Ethical Analysis (March 15, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2023202 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2023202

Contact Information

Sarah E. Kreps (Contact Author)
Cornell University ( email )
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
John Kaag
University of Massachusetts Lowell ( email )
1 University Ave
Lowell, MA 01854
United States
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