UAV – The Assassination of International Law

This post is more serious than some of the stuff I have produced in the past year as it covers the matter of state sanctioned murder and how we as a society accept it openly, neglecting to think of its social and political ramifications.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in combat is one of the latest and most devastating progressions in military practice since the creation of the atomic bomb. The global hegemons who possess these machines, most notably the United States, have gained the ability to assassinate suspects without trial in areas where war has never been declared; such as Yemen, Pakistan and Syria (Laurie Calhoun, We Kill Because We Can). in the case of America, these blatant attacks on human rights are justified by making recourse to an argument centred around defending ‘national security’. This means that politicians and military strategists can conduct what they call “targeted killing” without seeking the approval from congress; thus undermining the fundamental principles of their own democracy and of the international community.


This assault on civil rights and democratic ideology raises an important question:

Why has this been allowed to happen?

I personally believe the answer is simple – we don’t care. This isn’t to say that we want it to happen but, in the West, we as a people are so desensitised to technological advancements and ‘progress’ that it appears a logical progression to use machines to exterminate vermin abroad. Why waste our own soldiers lives on some extremists in a country far away when we can send in a UAV? We are apathetic when it comes to considering the moral consequences of new age technology. However, this is not all our fault. We are told by every outlet (mainly political agents and the media) that this disturbed interpretation of utilitarianism is, somehow, justifiable. That killing 6 people in a house somewhere in the middle east, using only hearsay for information (this is known as ‘actionable intelligence’ which differs greatly from ‘informed intelligence’ – the former would not be accepted as legitimate in a court of law), saves the lives of hundreds in the new Global War On Terror (GWOT) (Laurie Calhoun, We Kill Because We Can).

It must be stated that although the progression of UAV technology for the use of targeted killing is a fairly new practice it falls into an old concept – colonialism. That’s right, the post-colonialist argument finally reveals itself. Western culture has used various tools and processes to ensure its continued successes on the global stage for centuries and, despite the literal decolonisation in the 20th century, it still lives and breathes today. Edward W. Said argued that culture (most notably literature) is inherently connected to imperialism and encourages a process of ‘othering’ whereby we loyally appreciate our own classics which makes us in turn less able to appreciate the cultures of other societies (Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism). The link I am making may appear tenuous as I am comparing literature to militarised drones, but bear. with me. You see, if we consider what Said argues about culture, we can draw parallels. In the days of Britain’s empire many people tacitly consented to the colonisation of the world and the spread of crumpets across the globe as there was a strong belief in our culture’s superiority (Said argues that classics like Dante encourages/reinforced this belief). This then led to little criticism or opposition on our pursuits abroad because there was an inherent belief, almost utilitarian, that the world must be as we are because our culture is somehow superior and, as a result, they’ll be better off. Isn’t this also how we view drones -as the epitome of our modern society, a true display of technological superiority and power? Maybe we could compare this advancement as the new culture of the western world which encourages a new age of colonialism, one where we get machines to do our dirty work for us and then impose economic benefits to those states who allow us to do so. Of course, there are other factors at play, but this might help explain why we as a people are so accepting of this practice, because we ourselves are deeply assimilated into technological culture. To prevent this, we need to be more critically aware and realise our hubristic habitus before it is too late.

I hope this post has encouraged all of you who read it to think in more detail about the social implications of drones. I realise that a blog post can not change the world and I can’t accurately summarise in this post all of the intricacies involved. However, what I would say is that thinking about the issue is the first step and I would urge anyone who is reading this to look at my sources, especially We Kill Because We Can, and engage with this debate further.


Laurie Calhoun, 2016, We Kill Because We Can (not available online)

Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism Available at:

Recommended Reading:

Ahmed Akbar, 2013, The Thistle and The Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam

(The Bibliography in We Kill Because We Can is of great use as there are several texts which may help contextualise the drone nation further)


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