Thursday, September 21
Benjamin Banta (Political Science, RIT)
"‘The Sort of War They Deserve’?: Interwar Air Power Ethics and the Debate over Lethal Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles"
Grounded in a desire for the ethics of war to have some practical effect, ethicists are beset by a dual anxiety: too restrictive and no one with power will listen; too permissive and the powerful gain destructive moral cover. One of the primary challenges of this ethic-building-to-practical effect is the way new military technologies change the character of war by empowering agents in new ways. Indeed, there is at present an ever-growing literature that seeks to apply, defend and / or update the ethics of war in light of what is often argued to be an unprecedented period of rapid advance in military technology. To add to our confidence in whether our ethical approach to one particularly important new military technology, lethal Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), will find success in effectively and appropriately constraining war, this article examines the somewhat analogous historical case of the ethical debate over the rise of air power during the interwar period. That historical case presents a real failure to ethically constrain war in the face of a potentially revolutionary new weapon. By highlighting the interrelated processes of technological change, ethical debate, and the eventual reconciliation of war practice and war ethics, key elements of this failure are leveraged to offer theoretical advice that might help ethicists maintain their “critical edge” as lethal UAVs continue to mature and proliferate.
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