Why Drones Win

Amitai Etzioni on why, in terms of morality and efficiency, drones win hands down.
By: /
December 10, 2012

As I see it, one must separate the question of whether a given person ought to be killed (morally and legally speaking) from the question of how this should be done (i.e. using what tools), if s/he is to be killed legitimately. As I have suggested elsewhere, compared to other tools – whether Special Forces, missiles, or bombs – drones are the preferred means by far. They allow for a much more careful review of the target, limit collateral damage, and reduce the casualties on our side.


Given these facts, it seems odd to me for anyone to imply that drones should not be employed because of the danger of contagion. If other nations use them for legitimate kills, more power to them. If they use them for illegitimate kills, it would not be better or worse than if they had used other technologies (see Syria). And if they use drones to achieve goals other than killing terrorists, so be it. (Some are now used for locating lost skiers...)

The notion that if the U.S. did not develop and popularize the production and deployment of this technology that other nations would not do so, is questionable. China, for instance, is "popularizing" anti-ship missiles (followed by Iran) and cyber spying (followed by the U.S.). The question ought to be whether the goal is legitimate, and whether the means are preferable to others. In terms of morality and efficiency, drones win, hands down.

Also in the series


The Case for Humanitarian Drones

Jack C. Chow on how drones can dramatically change aid – if only we can overcome the stigma associated with them.

The Case Against Humanitarian Drones

Nathaniel A. Raymond, Brittany Card, and Ziad Al Achkar on why drones should not be deployed in humanitarian operations

Drones for Human Rights

Christopher Tuckwood on why UAVs should be added to the human rights tool box.

Drones in the Field

From kamikaze killers to stealth stalkers, OpenCanada runs through the ways drones are being used in the field today.

Lethal Drones

Council on Foreign Relations fellow Micah Zenko on how UAVs are a different kind of weapon, and one that is quickly proliferating.

Drone Proliferation

Denis Stairs on why the proliferation of military drones could be both a stabilizing and destabilizing force.

The Slow Death of the ‘Non-Combatant’

Jennifer Welsh on how targeting processes for drone strikes challenges how we traditionally distinguish non-combatants in war.

Where Drones Fit in Fields of Violence

There are serious concerns to navigate when it comes to the political geography of remote warfare.

Gregory Johnsen on Yemen, the U.S., and Drones

OpenCanada's interview with the author of The Last Refuge.

The Robotics Revolution

Brookings senior fellow Peter W. Singer on the broader implications of the use of drones for surveillance and war.

Drones For Good

Matthew Schroyer on why so many people get drones wrong – they're not all heartless, pilotless killing machines.

Letting Drones Reach their Potential

Ryan Calo on why the potential uses of drones for good are endless and should be protected from citizen backlash.

Drone Knowns and Unknowns

Joshua Foust on why the discussion around drone strikes is muddled and vague at best.

Are Drones Right for Canada?

Major-General Fraser Holman (Retired) on how Canada might best make use of UAV technology.

The View From the Ground

Renee Filiatrault on what it means to have an eye in the sky for the boots on the ground.