Send in the drones

Robert George, noting the increase in drone strikes under President Obama, suggests that Catholics from across the political spectrum should be able to oppose “[t]he wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones….” He explains:

The use of drones is not, in my opinion, inherently immoral in otherwise justifiable military operations; but the risks of death and other grave harms to noncombatants are substantial and certainly complicate the picture for any policy maker who is serious about the moral requirements for the justified use of military force. Having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war.

With all respect for George, this—which is the length and breadth of his articulated rationale—doesn’t work. It would seem to me that there is no moral distinction between drone strikes and any other kind of air strike; the former is a subset of the latter. They stand and fall together. Perhaps he means to create a distinction by writing that “[s]ometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid the[] use” of weapons such as predator drones, but that seems ill-taken to me. I have no evidence either way—and if George does he doesn’t mention it; we are both running on intuition—but I would have thought that the use of drones would decrease the chances of bystander casualties if it has any effect either way, insofar as it reduces the number of decisions made under pressure and expands the involvement of the chain of command in the kill decision.