The RPA ‘Double-Tap': Ethical Engagement or Moral Monster?

Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS)

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

Abstract:

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

new writing endeavors

Reaper RPAS Aircraft Lands at Kandahar, Afghanistan

 

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!

photo credit: Creative Commons | Ministry of Defence

consumed with legality while ignoring morality

Law Books

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.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Mr. T in DC

The Lesser of Two Evils

How should someone concerned about the morality of abortion AND (pre-emptive) war vote today?  Is there a moral choice available?  Does one candidate represent the ‘lesser of two evils’?

The Political Enquirer has an intriguing post this election day on the subject of ethical voting.  What begins with a typical-sounding scenario from a basic ethics class quickly adds a dash of Augustinian thinking and ends with the a thought-provoking conclusion that:

There is no ethically relevant different [sic] between this [classroom ethics] case and the case of choosing between a rabid pro-abortion candidate, and a rabid pro-war candidate.

So, if he’s correct, it appears that the Christian is left with only two options:

  1. Vote for a third-party candidate
  2. Abstain from voting altogether

Are these the only ethically acceptable options for the Christian in this election?  What about anyone else concerned with the morality of abortion and war?  What do you think?

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Bonhoeffer on God’s Will (from Ethics)

Last week I picked up Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this work, but I did anticipate a satisfying challenge to wrestle again with this 20th-century theological giant.  Having only read his Cost of Discipleship, however, I was unprepared for the struggle that lay ahead of me…this book is not an easy read!

While I’m not yet finished with the first chapter, I came across the following thought-provoking quote today in my reading:

“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the will of God” (Rom 12.2).  “I pray that your love may about yet more and more in knowledge and discernment, that ye may prove the different situations (i.e., what is in each case right)” (Phil 1.0 and 10; cf. Rom 2.18).  “Walk as children of light…proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph 5.8ff.).  These sayings show the error of the view that the simple recognition of the will of God must take the form of an intuition which excludes any sort of reflexion and that it must be the naive grasping of the first thought or feeling to force itself upon the mind, the error, in other words, of that psychologizing misrepresentation of the new life which has begun in Jesus.  It is not said at all that the will of God forces its way into the human heart without further ado, charged with the accent of uniqueness, or that it is simply obvious, and identical with whatever the heart may think.  The will of God may lie very deeply concealed beneath a great number of available possibilities.  The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be.  The heart, the understanding, observation and experience must all collaborate in this task.

In short, I think Bonhoeffer is saying, “In any given situation, the will of God is not necessarily an easy thing to discover.”  How far this is from what we often read and hear in the contemporary Church!

So what does anyone think?  Is Bonhoeffer on to something here?  I plan to write more later but wanted to throw this quote out to whet the appetite…

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