Riskless warfare revisited: Drones, asymmetry, and the just use of force.

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In 1999 Yale law professor Paul Kahn published some philosophical refl ections on the then recent air campaign over Kosovo, under the title ‘ War and
Sacrifi ce in Kosovo’. This paper and his subsequent ‘ The Paradox of Riskless
Warfare’ (2002) contain some of the earliest, and still some of the most
provocative, refl ections on the emerging phenomenon of asymmetric wars
conducted, by one party, almost entirely from the air.1
Unsurprisingly, both
papers, but especially the latter, have become key sources in the literature on
the ethics of drone warfare. The invitation to present at the ‘Governing Drone
Violence’ workshop in 2019, some two decades after the fi rst of these papers
appeared, seemed a fi tting opportunity to re-evaluate Kahn’s work in the
light of the subsequent literature and experience gained from twenty years
of ‘riskless warfare’. In this chapter, after setting out the key contributions of
each paper in the fi rst two sections, I note some limits of Kahn’s treatment
of the ethics of asymmetric warfare, and his account of the structure of Just
War theory, for debates about drones. In the fourth section, I discuss how
Kahn’s claims have fared after two decades of discussion of his work, again
highlighting the implications of his (mis)understanding of Just War theory,
and also of his relative neglect of the normative signifi cance of sovereignty,
for the plausibility of his account of the ethics of riskless warfare. I then turn
to the history of ‘riskless’ warfare over the last two decades and argue that, for
the most part, it suggests that Kahn was prescient in his concerns and (thus)
that the attention paid to his work has been warranted. I conclude by suggesting that, even though Kahn’s most famous claim, about the role played
by risk in justifying the moral privileges of combatants, is false, his papers
are likely to remain an important source of insights into the ethics of drone
warfare for many years to come.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthics of Drone Strikes
Subtitle of host publication Restraining Remote-Control Killing
EditorsChristian Enemark
Place of PublicationEdinburgh UK
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781474483599, 9781474483605
ISBN (Print)9781474483575
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

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