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The Harvard Review of Philosophy

Volume 20, Spring 2014

John Kaag, Jamie Ashton
Pages 80-99

Drone Warfare and the Paradox of Choice

This article employs Gerald Dworkin’s analysis in “Is More Choice Better Than Less” (1982) in order to understand the challenges and consequences of having enlarged the scope of military options to include precision guided munitions (PGM) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities.1 Following Dworkin, we argue that having more strategic choices are not always better than less for a number of specific reasons. Unlike many philosophical discussions of the use of these military technologies, ours is an account of the prudential challenges and consequences of having widened military options, and the analysis self-consciously avoids making moral or legal claims concerning their use. It is simply an examination of the claim that widening the range of tactical options, to include these new weapon systems, is necessarily better. We will follow the outline of Dworkin’s argument in describing the current politico-military affairs. Our intent is to expose the practical costs associated with having tactical choices that include the use of these technologies. To be clear, the argument does not bear directly on the use of these technologies, but rather on the challenges associated with merely having the choice to use these weapon systems. Faced with the challenges associated with the option of having PGM or UAV capabilities, it may be judicious for countries to freely limit the military choices that they have at their disposal. This is not self-evident since the weapon technologies in question are not the sort that poses a clear and present danger to a large number of citizens, as was the case with nuclear weapons limited in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) of the 1970s or 1980s. Therefore a more detailed philosophical argument is warranted. A final caveat needs to be stated: The argument is to be taken as a whole since no single aspect of Dworkin’s analysis is definitive in regard to the question of whether more choice is indeed better than less. Each aspect does, however, contribute to a deeper understanding of what enlarging the set of tactical means for modern militaries.

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