Targeted Killing: Drones

Peter Singer Is Not Peter Singer

By Kenneth Anderson
Thursday, February 16, 2012, 10:04 AM

I hope it is not snarkish to hope that by the time I hit "publish" on this post, the director of the National Constitution Center's "Peter Jennings Project," Todd Brewster, will have corrected his article this morning on the Huffington Post to note that, remarkable and accomplished as they both are, Brookings' Peter Singer is not Princeton's Peter Singer; the former and not the latter is the author of Wired for War.

In another notable recent book (Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict for the 21st Century), the Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer -- whose fertile imagination is well-suited to the peculiar twist and turns of future warfare -- points out that soon law enforcement agencies will have these same capabilities, issuing speeding tickets from positions hovering over the Interstate, raising constitution issues of privacy.

Everyone makes silly mistakes, of course; no worries.  At the substantive level, I think this article is wrong in many ways, of which the most important is its embrace of the current critical meme about drone warfare, that it is somehow "wrong" or at least counterproductive even if it spares civilians, spares our forces, and even spares the other side's forces that, through greater precision weapons, we determine do not need to be attacked if we can hit leadership or particular targets.  There is something morally abhorrent, let me say, in suggesting directly or indirectly that because drones make war more precise and sparing, that turns out to be a bad thing because it frees our leaders to use force more easily.

The moral way to address what political leadership does in the use of force is to address them and their powers directly.  It is immoral to seek to restrain them by ensuring that they do not have the most discriminating tools of war available to them.  To seek to restrain political leadership in this way is to use civilians and ordinary soldiers as mere means - hostages, in a word.