Targeting Terrorists Abroad: Ethical Considerations for Employing Remotely Piloted Aircraft

  • Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Taylor

In May 2013, President Barack Obama directed the release of an unclassified whitepaper that outlined “U.S. Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.” The Presidential Policy Guidance sets in place sound standards and procedures to ensure that U.S. decisions to employ lethal force under the policy comply with international and U.S. domestic laws. However, as with any law or policy, there will always be times when guidance is inadequate to the occasion, and choices among competing lawful options are not clear. This is especially true when one must consider whether to take a life or harm another person. In these instances, decisions require heightened ethical scrutiny to ensure the contemplated act is morally just under the prevailing circumstances and the explanatory power of the proffered justification fully resonates. Building an ethical cannon to compliment the U.S. policy ensures policy intricacies are fully understood by Administration officials and military advisors/operators, who must make the best decisions under the most trying of circumstances.