The Multilateralist

Reining in the drones

In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius argues that new killing technologies, notably armed drones, require new international rules: These weapons are so good they can become addictive. They make possible precise acts of war that, in another time, would be called "assassination." Other countries want to protect themselves from terrorist rebels just as much as ...

In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius argues that new killing technologies, notably armed drones, require new international rules:

These weapons are so good they can become addictive. They make possible precise acts of war that, in another time, would be called "assassination." Other countries want to protect themselves from terrorist rebels just as much as the United States does. This means the demand for such weapons will grow.

The "laws of war" may sound like an antiquated concept in this age of robo-weapons. But, in truth, a clear international legal regime has never been more needed: It is a fact of modern life that people in conflict zones live in the perpetual cross hairs of deadly weapons. Rules are needed for targets and targeters alike.

Ignatius’s assumption is that the existing — and quite voluminous — laws of war don’t provide the guidance that policymakers and military officials need. The Obama administration doesn’t seem to agree. It has argued that the intensified U.S. campaign of drone strikes is fully consistent with existing international law and has not suggested that new legal instruments are needed. So far as I can tell, even leading human rights groups aren’t agitating for new formal rules (for an interesting discussion of using targeted killing for human rights purposes, see here).

Even if Ignatius is right, the prospect of negotiating some kind of new international convention to fill the gap is daunting, particularly in a world where only a handful of states possess the weaponry in question. As Kenneth Anderson has argued in another context, reciprocity is fundamental to the laws of war, and it would be all but absent on this issue.   

Tag: Media

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