IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2018 - 10

attributable to drones. Their critique
broadly implicates U.S. counterterrorism policy in the 21st century
more broadly. Nevertheless, even if
drones are more a symptom than
a cause, they are a symptom that
aggravates the severity of the underlying disease and weakens the body
politic's resistance to it.
The final chapter before the book's
conclusion concerns the ethical implications of targeted killings and
signature strikes. While the chapter
opens with the claim that "even in a
world fraught with ambiguity, there
are certain acts . . . that should be
prohibited," the authors self-consciously avoid arguing about which
uses of drones, specifically, should
be morally prohibited. They stress
that evaluating such questions requires the use of human judgment,
and that therefore "we did not write
this section on the ethics of war
and peace and the moral hazard of
military technologies in a manner
appropriate to robots: input decision
procedure, output decision, and cor-

For example, the authors claim
that drone operators have an unprecedented amount of "leisure" in Thomas Hobbes' rather unusual sense
of "freedom from constant threat
of death." They argue that operators should use this psychological
space to reflect on the moral hazards
involved in what they do, as they can
kill without suffering the usual consequences that attend doing so. But a
few pages later the authors mention
how nearly 30% of drone operators
experience burnout, which the military defines as "an existential crisis."
Killing a named individual whom you
can observe in real time is much
more intimate and fraught than firing an artillery shell at or dropping a
bomb on anonymous grid coordinates. It seems likely that, if anything, operating a drone engenders
more stress and less opportunity for
calm reflection than many other wellestablished military technologies.
This broadening of the argument
to issues that are not exclusive to
drones recurs in other parts of the
chapter, despite an ostensibly narrow focus on targeted
killings. The authors, invoking
Marcuse's critique of technological rationality, a s ser t
The second question is whether
that before we can grapple
with specific issues about
drone use violates international
drones, we must take account
of the wide-ranging effects of
laws of war concerning the conduct
modern technology on the
of war once initiated (jus in bello).
way we think about, among
other things, warfare. Another section draws on Hannah
related action." This is fair enough,
Arendt's concept of the "banality of
but while the authors are at pains to
evil" to argue that citizens who allow
point out an urgent need for ethical
undeclared warfare undertaken in
reflection, they do not do much to
their name to become normalized are
identify even which qualitative faccomplicit in it in ways that they rarely
tors would have salience in making
acknowledge. Topics like these are
such determinations. Instead, the
important, but doing more than gesturdiscussion centers largely on more
ing at them seems beyond the ambit
general issues about modern techthe authors set in the rest of the book.
nology than on matters specific to
We do get a relatively detailed
drones and targeted killings.
examination of the somewhat outré

10

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

question of whether using drones
might, in some circumstances, be
morally obligatory (the authors, unsurprisingly, make a case for "no"),
but almost no examination of the far
more pressing question of the circumstances, if any, in which targeted killings and/or signature strikes
might be morally permissible. A
blanket prohibition on assassinations would not be a morally eccentric view, but the authors stress
that they are pragmatists and not
absolutists, which at least strongly
suggests there are at least some
cases in which they would countenance the kind of drone strikes they
take as their subject in this book.
With so much about drone warfare
shrouded in secrecy, a real-life case
is probably too much to ask for, but
I would like to have seen if there we
was even an idealized scenario in
which the authors would be willing
to countenance a targeted killing.
(Perhaps on a known terrorist about
to trigger a nuclear bomb?)
The book concludes with a slate
of sensible recommendations: reevaluating the AUMF, working towards
international agreements about best
practices for using drones, and limiting the proliferation of armed drones.
Unfortunately, U.S. leadership in
these areas seems less likely than it
did when the book was published in
2014. This does not, however, diminish the timeliness and urgency of this
stimulating book. Kreps and Kaag do
a good job of highlighting key issues,
even if they are sometimes less forthcoming with firm conclusions than
one might like.

Reviewer Information
Jacob Ossar received the Ph.D.
degree in philosophy from Johns
Hopkins University and has taught
ethics to engineering/science students at the Stevens Institute of
Technology. Email: jacob.ossar@
gmail.com.
∕

March 2018



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