Why I am not against military drones

A predator drone firing missiles.

I’m against war, but I am not against military drones. Why not? Because when I hear other people explain why they are against military drones, I find none of the arguments convincing. These are some examples.

Drones kill large numbers of people at a time!

This doesn’t mean you’re against drones, this means you’re against war. Machine guns, surface-to-air missiles, bombs… all kinds of things kill large numbers of people at the same time. This isn’t an argument against military drones specifically. I just means you don’t like war.

Drones can kill without any risk to our own side

I’ve never understood the ethical argument here. How exactly is it ethically better to kill people when you are putting yourself at risk of dying than to kill people in a way that does not put you at risk? Aren’t they dying either way?

Killing people with drones makes it like a game, with the killers just using a joystick!

I’m not sure that killing people using a joystick is ethically any worse than killing people using a rifle, a bomb, or a musket. They are dead either way.

Now… I’m not trying to be deliberately obtuse. I know when people make these last two arguments, they are thinking something like this: Being personally involved in killing, and putting myself at risk of dying myself, should act as deterrents against killing. If the only time people kill is when they have to get their hands dirty, and risk dying themselves, then they will kill less often.

Maybe. I suppose. It’s an interesting theory. But I’m not entirely sure there is evidence that the individual psychodynamics of deterrence really operates on a large scale when we are talking about war and international conflict. It might, it might not. So until I actually see evidence that having drones is increasing the rate or severity of wars now as compared to the millennia of human history when we didn’t have drones, I’m going to stick to my observation: a person killed by a drone is no more dead than a person killed by any other means.

Drones are less precise and kill more civilians than manned aircraft do

This little factoid may or may not be true. You can find articles that support this assertion, and you can find articles that claim it is false. Who the fuck knows.

But even if it’s true, guess what? That doesn’t mean you are against drones. It means you are against sloppy, poorly-made drones. There is nothing about drones that is intrinsically imprecise. In fact, given rapid advancements in technology, there is no reason that drones shouldn’t be able to completely out-perform human pilots in terms of accuracy and precision. If you are against accidental collateral killing in war, then you are against poorly programmed and poorly manufactured drones… you are not against drones per se.


In the end, this is the problem I have with people who say they are against drones: their arguments are an emotional reaction to the horrors of war, and the drones are simply a new way to bring those horrors about. I’m not against military drones because the drones aren’t the problem.

People wanting to blow shit up in the first place is the problem.