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Lawyers: A Predator Drone's Achilles Heel?

Author: Brett H. McGurk, International Affairs Fellow
March 11, 2010
Harvard National Security Journal


Killer mechanical robots the size of flies, giant predator drones piloted from an iPhone, together with a new mode or warfare embraced by the U.S. military and both political parties in Washington.  That is the upshot of the recent symposium - "New Robotics and the Legality of Targeted Killings" - hosted by the Harvard National Security Law Journal.  The technology is here to stay, and it is being deployed to kill designated enemies of the United States and its allies.  What are the legal and ethical implications of this trend?  And what rules govern killing by pilotless drones in some of the most remote regions of the world?

Surprisingly, we seem to have no idea.

As a former official overseeing national strategy in two warzones, I appreciate how law and ethics can take a back seat to new tactics that turn the tide against committed enemies.  So long as the tactics are legally available, whatever the theory, then the tactics will be used.  In Iraq, there have probably been more Predator drone strikes than anywhere else on earth - and with tremendous effect, degrading extremist networks and decapitating leadership cells.  Drone attacks alone are not strategically sound, but when combined with a campaign to secure the population against common enemies, the strategic advantages are proven and empirical.  The same strategy is now being employed in Afghanistan.

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