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Remote Weaponry: The Ethical Implications


Suzy Killmister, CAPPE, Department of Philosophy, Room A06, Old Quadrangle, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010 Australia.


The nature of warfare is changing. Increasingly, developments in military technology are removing soldiers from the battlefield, enabling war to be waged from afar. Bombs can be dropped from unmanned drones flying above the range of retaliation. Missiles can be launched, at minimal cost, from ships 200 miles to sea. Micro Air Vehicles, or ‘WASPS’, will soon be able to lethally attack enemy soldiers. Though still in the developmental stage, progress is rapidly being made towards autonomous weaponry capable of selecting, pursuing, and destroying targets without the necessity for human instruction. These developments have a profound — and as yet under-analysed — impact on just war theory. I argue that a state under attack from remote weaponry is unable to respond in the traditional, just war sanctioned, method of targeting combatants on the battlefield. This restriction of options potentially creates a situation whereby a state is either coerced into surrender, or it must transgress civilian immunity. Just war theory in conditions of remote warfare therefore either serves the interests of the technologically advanced by demanding the surrender of targeted states, or else it becomes redundant.