After what seems like forever, my Air Force-sponsored master’s thesis is completed, graded, and now released to the world or whomever is interested…
Title: The RPA ‘Double-Tap’: Ethical Engagement or Moral Monster
The ethical philosophy known as the Just War tradition (JWT) has governed the use and restraint of force on the battlefield for all of modern history. Its tenets are inextricably linked to International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict and, as a result, are both morally and legally binding on American warfighters.
Throughout the past decade, remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) have gained great popularity on the battlefield, but their use has not gone uncriticized. Little to no literature has been produced examining the ethical implications of RPA tactics, including the tactic known as the ‘double-tap’ where one target is struck multiple times in a single attack.
This paper uses unclassified reports of every known American RPA strike since 2001 and evaluates those determined to be ‘double-taps’ against the Just War jus in bello criteria of discrimination and proportionality to determine how often these attacks violate the ethical constraints on war. The research here finds that 60 percent of the time US ‘double-tap’ attacks violate the principles of Just War and recommends either a modification of American rules of engagement to ensure future employment can be done according to these long-standing ethical and legal rules.
Download the entire paper here.
photo credit: Crown Copyright | UK Ministry of Defence
I haven’t given up blogging for Lent, but my blogging will be slowing down for the next six months as I begin my current master’s thesis. I will be researching and writing a Just War tradition (JWT) evaluation on the United States’ use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA or “drones”). The paper will look at both the use of RPA in theory and in practice and see whether the jus in bello (justice in war) facets of JWT challenge us to make changes in either our doctrine or praxis.
My initial hunch is that, while placing a greater burden to be used ethically than traditional weapons systems, there is nothing inherently immoral about RPA. I also expect to find that our current use of RPA around the world violates the jus in bello JWT principle of discrimination more than other weapons systems. These are only my initial gut feelings, however, and I am open to whatever my research suggests.
Either way, things will be slower around here for the next few months. I still plan to post from time to time, though, so don’t abandon me completely!
We live in a society where questions of legality abound and questions of morality are all but ignored. When deciding a course of action, we have little hesitation about asking “Is it legal?” but typically fail to ask “Is it right?” A recent example comes from the leaked DOJ memo containing legal rationale for the killing of American citizens who have joined Al-Qaida or an ill-defined “associated force.” The memo outlines why, in the opinion of the DOJ and current administration, such activities are considered legal. Following its release and subsequent public outcry, Sen Lindsey Graham (at the opposite end of the political spectrum) supported the President’s position and issued a statement saying, “The process of being targeted I think is legal.”
One of the many issues in this scenario is the question of legality vs. morality. Lawmakers (like Obama [as Senator] and Graham) make laws. Lawyers (like Obama and Graham) practice law. In theory, I’m certain that most lawyers, judges, and lawmakers genuinely desire moral laws…but there is absolutely zero guarantee that what is legal according to the law is also moral (exhibit A: slavery).
Where are those asking whether such things as targeting killings (of American citizens or others) are morally right? Reading the outcomes of our judicial system, it seems that just about anything can be argued to be legal, but where are the discussions of morality? They are, in large part, nonexistent.
This is true not only in politics. As a military chaplain, one of my mandated charges is to serve as a moral and ethical adviser to the chain of command. While I have been consulted on personal ethical matters time and time again by commanders and individual airmen, I have never once been consulted on matters of morality regarding command decisions. The JAG, of course, is consulted routinely to ensure whatever course of action is legally defensible. It seems commanders can be easily removed for taking actions that are illegal, but as long as they are legal there seems to be little concern for whether or not they are ethical.
Simply because something is legal does not mean it is right. We must to be concerned with both.