The Moral Legitimacy of Drone Warfare

Posted: 20 Sep 2021

Date Written: September 18, 2021


What explains variation in the public’s perception of morally legitimate drone warfare? Scholars often reify the public’s treatment of strikes to battlefield courage, force protection, or duties of care to civilians. Rather, I contend that people may combine these moral norms to cast judgment. I hypothesize that states’ use of drone warfare as a tactic or strategy, coupled with how strikes are unilaterally or multilaterally constrained to protect against unintended consequences, shape peoples’ intuitions for morally legitimate strikes. Use and constraint, then, constitute moral rules that condition the public’s perception of legitimate strikes. Varying how states use strikes under different constraints allows us to determine when and how people emphasize moral norms. To test this claim, I conducted an original survey experiment in March 2021. The results provide statistical support, though not unanimous, for my hypothesis. They show that the public’s recall of moral norms is a function of how states use and manage strikes. The public’s perception of morally legitimate drone warfare, then, is not reducible to constraints alone. It is mediated, in part, by how states use strikes. This paper makes a key contribution by integrating intuitions into the international relations scholarship on drone warfare.

Keywords: Drone Warfare, International Society, Intuitions, Legitimacy, Moral Psychology, Rules

Suggested Citation

Lushenko, Paul, The Moral Legitimacy of Drone Warfare (September 18, 2021). Available at SSRN:

Paul Lushenko (Contact Author)

Paul Lushenko ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics