Drones and Robots: On the Changing Practice of Warfare

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The recent development of unmanned technology—drones and robots of various types—is transforming the nature of warfare. Instead of fighting against other human beings, combatants will soon be fighting against machines. At present, these machines are operated by human beings, but they are becoming increasingly autonomous. Some people believe that, from a moral point of view, this development is worrisome, especially insofar as fully autonomous offensive systems (‘killer robots’) are concerned. I claim that the arguments that support this belief are pretty weak. Compared with the grand battles of the past, with their shockingly high toll of casualties, drone-centered campaigns seem much more humane. They also enable a better fit between moral responsibility and vulnerability to defensive action. Drones and robots may well be recorded in the annals of warfare as offering real promise for moral progress.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Ethics of War
EditorsSeth Lazar, Helen Frowe
Place of PublicationOxford
Number of pages17
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • drones
  • robots
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • targeted killing
  • unmanned technology
  • warfare


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