The Ethics of Drone Warfare

New Bern Sun-Journal
January 2, 2014

A philosophy scholar talks about the use of military drones and the potential for a “moral hazard” during the first Rothermel Foundation Lecture of 2014 on Sunday, Jan. 12.

John Kaag, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, is the guest speaker for the 2 p.m. lecture at First Presbyterian Church in New Bern.

His talk is entitled “The Ethics of Drone Warfare.”

Drone warfare has been hotly debated in the media, often on the grounds of strategy or international law, he said.

“Some of the easiest, most habitual things in life can be the most morally suspect. As modern warfare becomes increasingly automated and weaponry becomes increasingly precise, we face this unsettling fact with ever greater frequency,” he said in an advance email on his talk.

Recently, the moral consequences of drones warfare has been a point of discussion.

According to a Rothermel release, Kaag was among the first to focus on these consequences.

Some scholars have argued that the precision of drone use in targeted killing makes the employment of these devices not only morally permissible, but morally obligatory. Kaag argues against this position.

In his writings in the New York Times, Kaag argues that drones constitute what ethicists and economist have called a moral hazard, a situation in which individuals are willing to take morally suspect actions if they do not have to face the consequences of these actions.

According to the release, “The moral burden has always been placed on soldiers and commanders in warfare, but as battles are increasingly fought from remote positions, this burden cannot be shouldered with greater awareness and responsibility.”

Kaag has extended this point — focusing on the moral burden of U.S. citizens in regard to this type of warfare — arguing that the use of drones in signature strikes stands to undermine the democratic accountability of modern liberal democracies.

The Rothermel Foundation was originally funded by a bequest from Amel Rothermel of New Bern.

The endowment is administered as a fund of First Presbyterian Church of New Bern. The Foundation is governed by an ecumenical board of trustees, appointed by the Session of First Presbyterian Church in consultation with the ministers of congregations represented on the board.

Contributions to the endowment are accepted from the public.

The foundation has a board that includes members from First Presbyterian Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Temple B’Nai Sholem, Centenary United Methodist Church, Garber United Methodist Church, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church and St. Paul Catholic Church.

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