Uninhabited aerial vehicles and the asymmetry objection: A response to strawser

Jai C. Galliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The debate about the ethics of uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) is failing to keep pace with the rise of the technology. Therefore, all the key players, including ethicists, lawyers, and roboticists, are keen to offer their views on the use of these drone aircraft. Some are opposed to their use, citing a range of ethical, legal and operational issues, while others argue for their ethically mandated use. B.J. Strawser fits into this latter category. He develops a principle of 'unnecessary risk', from which he argues that we have an ethical obligation to employ UAVs if we can do so without incurring a loss of capability. Strawser defends his argument against a number of potential objections, most questionably, the argument that the use of distance weaponry such as drones, against another state without distance weaponry, crosses some moral threshold that makes the combat immoral. Utilising Jeff McMahan's work on the inequality of combatants, Strawser essentially argues that there are no grounds for a 'fair fight'. However, this paper will argue that it is not so easy to overturn the doctrine of the moral equality of combatants, nor dismiss the problem with asymmetry. It will demonstrate that if the asymmetry reaches a certain level, the justification for resorting to war may be removed and some sort of policing action may remain the only option.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-66
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Military Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • asymmetry
  • autonomous weapons
  • drones
  • just war theory
  • military robotics
  • moral equality of combatants
  • principle of unnecessary risk
  • risk
  • UAVs


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