the Use of Military Drones and ethics

Throughout the twenty-first century, a revolution has swept through modern battle, with increasingly sophisticated weapons introduced to the military.

With the intricacy of modern warfare, the military needed to adapt their tactics to the ever-changing battlefield. Enemies no longer hide in known locations, nor are their activities traceable, and when terrorists strike, tremendous destruction of societal institutions, lives, and property is witnessed. Among the adopted combat weapons by the military, the use of drones has brought forth success in detecting and destroying the enemies (such as terrorist) with relative ease. Since the terrorist strike on September 11, 2001, for example, the United States conducted thousands of drone surveillance and attacks in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia among other in pursuit of terrorists (Callaghan & Kernic, 2004). Due to their considerably small size, state-of-the-art infrared camera, maneuverability, and destruction potential, drone strikes have been used to flush out militants from their hideout, and destroy them without harming a single soldier.

Even though drone strikes have managed to destroy terrorist bases and lives, sometimes drone strikes close to the civilians have led to their unnecessary deaths, injury, and massive loss of property (Dilanian, Nichols, & Kube, 2017).

While proponents of the use of drones to combat terrorism and internal and external enemies have relied their arguments on drone strikes and success rate thus protecting the citizens, the opponents have questions the ethics and morality of its use especially when these attacks cause needless deaths of civilians and destruction of property in the targeted areas.

Position Statement

I believe it is ethical for the military to use drones to combat global terror since it protects the citizens of its country.

Supporting Reasons

First, the nature of warfare revolves around destroying your enemies while losing the fewest of your military personnel (Callaghan & Kernic, 2004). To do so, the military employs several techniques such as introducing more advanced weapons to ensure success in combat. This includes weapons such as drones. Drones are unmanned, small in structure, and lethal in attack. They are controlled from the military base and use infrared to detect and target the terrorist hideouts. They fire missiles to these locations and destroy them successfully. If they are exposed by the terrorist and destroyed, it causes no loss of life to the military personnel (Dilanian et al., 2017). Thus, using the drones from the army point of view is justifiable as it protects its staff from injury and death while destroying the enemy.

Secondly, drones have the ability to collect intelligence about the enemy by stealthily hovering around the terrorist camps. The drones can, therefore, gathering information about the terrorist plans of action and next targets (Dilanian et al., 2017). They can obtain information about their hideouts and communication channel. This information is vital in the fight against terrorism as it provides the military with an edge over the terrorist and gives them enough time to plan and quell potential attacks targeting the citizens of their country (Callaghan & Kernic, 2004). Thus, the safety of the citizens of the country is guaranteed and their lives protected. Furthermore, the sole purpose of the military is to safeguard the citizens of their country from external attacks, and by any means possible, they have an obligation to do so.

Ethical Reasoning

Evidently, the use of drones in combat gives the military an edge in the fight against terrorism. While it successfully destroys the terrorists and their camps, sometimes the drones strikes may fire at terrorist near private homes and lead to their deaths and destruction of property (Kaag, 2013). The morality of these actions can be reviewed using two ethical theories; the Utilitarian and the Deontological ethical theories.

Utilitarian Ethical Theory

John Stuart Mill discourse on nature of the utilitarian theory explained that while an action's morality can be judged based on the pleasure or pain they bring to the human life, there was a need to go a step further and define the quality of happiness resulting from the action (Mill, 2009). Thus, utilitarian as a principle is concerned with the greatest amount of happiness a particular action brings and seeks to promote the capacity to ensure that the actions achieve the greater happiness (Mosser, 2013). For an action to pass the utilitarian morality test, therefore, it has to result in the achievement of the greater good.

The utilitarian theory can be applied to an action or a general rule.When applied to particular action, it is termed as the act-utilitarianism; when applied to a particular rule, it is referred to as rule-ut ilitarianism (Mosser, 2013). Act-utilitarianism refers to the application of utilitarianism to a situation where a person has several action choices. According to the act-utilitarianism, and action is known as ethical if the concrete action chosen over others results to the greatest happiness (Mill, 2009). On the contrary, rule-utilitarianism refers to the application of utilitarianism to the rule of conduct. It justifies the morality of the action by its adherence to the norms of the society; that is, an action is deemed ethical if it does not break the accepted code of conduct.

Deontology Moral Theory

Deontological moral theories all point to the notion that an action's rightfulness or wrongfulness does not depend on the consequences they bring but rather on whether or not they fulfill the person's duty (Mosser, 2013). One example of this theory is the Kant's Ethics. Immanuel Kant, in his discourse, explained that certain types of actions had been entirely prohibited no matter how much pleasure they brought. Before a Kantian performs an act, he/she considers two questions, one; first if the action they propose to act is rational when adopted by any other person, and secondly, if the action respects the goals of a human being rather than appearing to use them for personal purposes (Mosser, 2013). If the action fails both questions, then it is deemed unethical.

Kant's formula of the end in itself suggests that one ought to act as a way to treat humanity whether in as a person or another, but 'never simply as a means but always the same time as an end (O'Neill, 1993).' In this sense, to use another person as a mere 'means' denote that the one person uses the other to fulfill his selfish needs and not to help them or benefit them. In addition to that, Kant commands that one should not do anything themselves that they would not allow anyone else to do; that is, while conducting an action, you should act in a way that the action is acceptable if conducted towards you.

Application of the Ethical Theories to Drone Use

The primary course of action of the military is to provide security and protection to the citizens of their country. When in service, they use any means necessary to ensure that they adhere to their duties; this includes using drones to fight external attacks. When the terrorist attack a country, they lead to loss of lives and destruction of property. This causes - in the utilitarian perspective - greatest pain to the greatest number of people. However, when the military use drones to attack the terrorist hideouts, they reduce the chances of attacks on the citizens of their (military) country (Kaag, 2013). In this sense, using drones is justifiable since it brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.

The military follows a protocol before ordering drone strikes in any situation. That is, the commander takes orders from the seniors and passes it to the juniors in the field. These actions are discussed and reflected upon by several officials of the army (may include the President) before dispatched. In these actions, the intelligence from the surveillance is utilized to present the best form of attack that causes the least number of casualties to the civilians. According to the act-utilitarianism, the action is justified since it leads to the least loss of life to the civilians and greatest damage to the terrorists (Mosser, 2013).

Thirdly, the deontological ethical theory suggests that the rightfulness or wrongfulness of an action does not depend on the consequences they bring but rather on whether or not they fulfill the person's duty (O'Neill, 1993).

In this sense, the use of drone strikes fulfills the obligation of the military to protect the country and the citizens. By performing their duty, the military actions are ethical. Moreover, Kantian theory states that it is a moral duty to protect humanity from unselfish acts. Using drones to strike terrorist dens saves the country and the world from the pain and loss of life that will occur when the terrorist strikes cities and populations. By stopping these acts from happening using drones, the military actions are morally justifiable.

Objection and Response

The opponents of the use of drones question its ethical and moral view as it causes unnecessary deaths of innocent people and leads to the destruction of property. They argue that as drones strike, there are increased numbers of civilians that die (Dilanian et al., 2017). These civilians are innocent and have nothing to do with the war between the military and the terrorist. Moreover, they propose that the military ought to use weapons that do not lead to the deaths of civilians even as they pursue the terrorists (Dilanian et al., 2017). In the ethical point of view, such attacks seem to fail the utilitarian and Kantian perspectives of moral acts.

However, it is important to note that the military action is in the best interest of their country and take orders from the president. This means that they will fight any foreign attack with the intent of protecting the citizens of their own country (Nagel, 1972). While this seems to fail the Kantian ethics of humanity when viewed from the other point of view, it passes the utilitarian ethical view since it protects the greatest number of people. Kant argued that people should not act with selfish interests, and protecting the lives of one's country and neglecting the lives of others may fail the action's morality (O'Neill, 1993). However, comparing the number of people saved by the number of those that perish, then the action can be justifiable and pass as an unselfish. It is the moral duty of the military to protect humanity, and fighting the terrorist is one way of doing so.


In conclusion, the use of drones in warfare has been successful in the fight against global terrorism. As the military fights the terrorist, they protect their citizens and those targeted by the terrorists. This way, their actions can be deemed morally justifiable in the practical ethical viewpoint since it unselfishly seeks to protect the greatest number of people. However, as in many wars, innocent civilians are sometimes caught up in these strikes and die in the process. Such acts may undermine the morality of the use of drones but looking at the action in a Kantian ethical point of view, it seeks to protect humanity; which is the greatest factor in any act. Therefore, it is right to say that using drones to fight terror is ethical since it protects the citizens of its country and those of the world as a whole.


Callaghan, J., & Kernic, F. (2004). Armed forces and international security: Global trends and issues (pp. 65-70). Münster: Lit.

Dilanian, K., Nichols, H., & Kube, C. (2017, March 4). Trump admin ups drone strikes tolerates higher civilian casualties. NBC News. Retrieved on July 5, 2017 from:

Kaag, J. (2013, March 17). Drones, ethics and the armchair soldier. The New York Times. Retrieved on July 4, 2017 from:

Mill, J. S. (2009). Utilitarianism: [1901]. Cornell University Library.

Mosser, K. (2013). Understanding philosophy (1st ed., pp. 175-215). New York: Bridgepoint Education.

Nagel, T. (1972).War and massacre. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1(2), 123-144.

O’Neill, O. (1993). A simplified account of Kant’s ethics. In T. Regan (Ed.) Matters of Life and Death, 411-415.Retrieved from'Neill, Kant.pdf

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