Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interesting point about drone strikes

Erik Voeten (of The Monkey Cage blog) claims that one moral problem with drone strikes is that the marginal cost per strike is too low and when the marginal cost of something is low, it is easier to ethically justify. This is an interesting point. I am curious however, what the marginal cost really is. Given the infrastructure we already developed for drone strikes, the cost per assassination goes down for each strike. But what is the actual cost? It would seem that the cost is less than that of the infrastructure of developing special teams of people to do this.

Also important, given the secrecy of assassination culture, there seems to be no penalty for bad decisions. After all, if there were not sufficient government resources expended, why punish anyone for a mistake? Thus one might think that the marginal cost for failure is also way too low.

On a related note, why was bin Laden killed with a SEAL team and not a drone with a team to go in after the strike?


Friday, September 21, 2012

Eisen Reviews Levin and Shapira

H-Net has Robert Eisen's review of Yigal Levin and Amnon Shapira's collection War and Peace in Jewish Tradition: from the Biblical world to the present.

Looks interesting. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

David Boucher on the Just War tradition (summary)

David Boucher's "The just war tradition and its modern legacy: Jus as bellum and jus in bello" is an interesting description of the interplay between the ethical and legal justifications for war on the one hand, and the rules governing how war is to be fought on the other hand. This interplay is described via an analysis of the legal theorists common law, customs, conventions, and treaties. It particualr he focuses on Grotius, Pufendorf, Vatel, and the contemporary accords governing warfare.

The article largely describes the positions of the various sides regarding the question of jus in bello in cases where there maybe no jus ad bellum, i.e. do soldiers have to fight a war in a just manner if the war is politically unjust?

An interesting discussion overall.

(The article is in the European Journal of Political Theory 11(2), 92-111; 2011)

Laws of war and cyberattacks

The US has decided that the laws of warfare apply to cyberattacks

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Kaag and Kreps OpEd in CHE

This week the Chronicle of Higher Education had an OpEd by John Kaag and Sara Kreps on drone warfare. It's behind a paywall, so you can't find it, though it seems to be a sequel to their NY Times blog post . But the upshot is that military drones are morally problematic. I really didn't understand the arguments, but I'll paraphrase them here for you as best I can: "When it comes to war, if its easy, its probably not moral." Here's why.
(1) Easy actions become habitual. Habitual actions are not amenable to the way we must make moral decisions.
(2) If it is easy, you must be oppressing someone.
(3) Self-interested actions are easiest to accomplish. But self-interest is not a moral justification.
This is followed by a discussion about how the Mutually Assured Destruction strategy of the Cold War was a way to make a prudential decision, not a moral one. Today, however, drone warfare presents  us with moral decisions. Now, because drones can be so precise and do exactly what we want, it is more ethically challenging because we now have to think carefully about who is a legitimate target. Thus, the rhetoric of legitimate target is masked by the veneer of moral precision thanks to precision weaponry.

Again, I am not sure I really grasped all the arguments, but there they are (best I can tell). 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Viehoff on Dobos

Daniel Viehoff reviews Ned Dobos's Insurrection and Intervention: Two faces of Sovereignty in NDPR.

The book, according to the review, seems to attempt to understand the intuition (which I admit I am not too comfortable with) that there is an asymmetry between our intuition that an internal rebellion against a government is morally legitimate whereas an external force who attempts an intervention with identical ends is less legitimate.

I suspect the real reason for the intuition is that people have trouble believing that outsiders could be so altruistic that they would risk blood and treasure for another. That is, people assume that at the very least, if someone is coming from the outside to help you, they must have ulterior motives, which makes the enterprise inherently suspect. Whereas people on the inside are only out for their own self interest, which somehow makes insurrection legitimate.

In any case, I would be curious to see what is involved in defending the intuition. The book looks interesting and well reasoned. I look forward to reading it myself. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

More on Drone Ethics

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article on ethics and autonomous weapons systems.

Apparently this is a hot topic for ethicists at the moment, but I am willing to bet that the whole discussion will be rendered moot in a few years by military fiat. It seems to be only a matter of years before we will start to see weapons that protect borders and fighting our wars that inform humans what they have done after the fact. We will program to behave according to some accepted standard of war and accept some level of mistake. (I know there will be the inevitable scandal surrounding "improperly" coded machines.)

Many of the ethics discussion revolve around the mistakes they can potentially make. But we have always accepted that our machines will be imperfect. Rockets used during WWII were not only not accurate, some were as likely to hit the city that was targeted as not.  But we accepted this as a limit on the technology.

We should also come to accept that an action is not more moral when done unmediated by an intentional agent as opposed to when done by an autonomous pre-programmed machine. It strikes me as rather chauvinistic to think that we should accept our own mistakes as legitimate mistakes and fret about the mistakes our machines make. In a sense the machines are an extension of us. They do what we tell them and they do it very well. We make mistakes, they make mistakes. They do it less often. The fact that they may do it without telling us before hand does not strike me as particularly important.

 Sorry for rambling. Any thoughts?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Five laws of drone strikes?

Wired Magazine has an article that is skeptical about whether or not President Obama can be taken seriously when he talks about drone warfare. The author's reason is that the president gave an interview where he laid out five tests that a target must pass before the government will initiate a drone strike, but those five rules appear not to be used in actual drone strikes. Here are the five rules:

1. “It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws.”
2. “It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.”
3. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”
4. “We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.”
5. “That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process.”

Let us ignore for now the question of whether or not the US actually follows these rules. Let us also assume for the moment that there is some situation where a drone strike is morally just. I am wondering if these are a good set of rules. Can they be spelled out in fewer laws? Are any laws redundant, unnecessary, etc. Do we need additional rules? Do these rules capture everything we want in the ethics of drone strikes at least in the way that Asimov's three laws capture the ethics we want from robots or the way standard Just War Theory captures what we want out of the ethics of war? Thoughts?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review of Whitman's _The Verdict of Battle_

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting review of James Q. Whitman's The Verdict of Battle: The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War.

(Since the CHE is hiding most of this review I'll summarize it here.) The upshot of the book seems to be that even during the middle ages, war was fought using definite rules. Meaning, that war had norms, and the norms were followed. This kept wars somewhat "civil" and allowed for a relatively quick way of resolving disputes, usually involving land. ("Civil" here means that wars did not drag on for months or years.) It was only after republicanism replaced monarchy that battles were not simply fought to gain rights to territory, but were there to change the government of (or perhaps annihilate, if change was not possible) the other side. Their desire to improve the life of the other country led to wars that were far more arduous than ever before. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

New Article by Albertini

The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy just published an article "Peace and War in Moses Maimonides and Immanuel Kant: A comparative study" by the late Francesca Y. Albertini who passed away quite young after battling a long illness. 

Fotion's review of Lee

Here is Nick Fotion's NDPR review of Steven P. Lee's Ethics and War: An introduction. The review essentially says that it is a good book, but it is far too detailed and comprehensive to be an introduction.