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2024 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

Inhuman Weapons: Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles and the Moral Salience of Culture to Their Use in Central Asia

Author : John Sianghio

Published in: Religion and Social Criticism

Publisher: Springer Nature Switzerland

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Abstract

Just war literature largely rejects asymmetry of military capability between combatants as a valid moral ground for prohibiting the use of lethal uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) in combat. In this chapter, I apply Richard Miller’s “ethics of ordinary life” to defend the ethical salience of the “asymmetry objection.” Miller’s “ethics of ordinary life” foregrounds insights from cultural studies and ethnography, as well as the particularities of lived religion and local custom to qualify abstract concepts and widely held moral norms. Following an “ethics of ordinary life” approach, I examine the deployment of lethal UAVs in support of counterinsurgency efforts in Pashtun dominated regions of Afghanistan. I argue that the asymmetry objection gains force in this context because UAV use insulates operators from any battlefield risks, violating Pashtun conceptions of honorable combat to such a degree that it undermines the legitimacy of counterinsurgency operations. More than an affront to Pashtun values, the centrality of legitimacy to successful counterinsurgency operations means that UAV use in this context makes it impossible to satisfy the just war criterion of “reasonable chance of success,” calling into question the moral permissibility of deploying lethal UAVs in this theater of war and highlighting the importance of cultural knowledge to ethical inquiry in general.

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Footnotes
1
Miller, Richard B. 2016. Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 40).
 
2
Miller 2016, 73–74.
 
3
Strawser, Bradley J. 2010. “Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles.” Journal of Military Ethics 9, no. 4 (December): 342–368.
 
4
Galliot, Jai C. 2012. “Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles and the Asymmetry Objection: A Response to Strawser.” Journal of Military Ethics 11, no. 1 (March): 58–66.
 
5
Strawser 2010, 356.
 
6
The asymmetry objection necessarily stems from the specific capabilities of specific actors rather than from anything inherent to the technology itself. For instance, there has been little moral outrage over the deployment of UAVs in the ongoing conflict brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine despite the significant use of both reconnaissance and weaponized UAVs on both sides of the conflict (See Isabelle Khurshudyan, Mary Ilyushina, and Konstiyantin Khudov, “Russia and Ukraine are Fighting the First Full-Scale Drone War.” Washington Post. December 2, 2022). Moral discomfort to UAV use and the asymmetry objection which accompanies it are birthed out of a specific experience of UAV deployment in the twenty-first century where technologically superior nations have deployed them primarily against terrorist and insurgent actors whose economic, military, and technological capacities cannot hope to match that of a UAV equipped nation. In light of this, a more precisely targeted analysis that accounts for disparities between particular actors in particular strategic situations seems a better measure of both the asymmetry objection’s utility and validity as a tool for evaluating UAV use in combat.
 
7
For Geertz, an experience-near concept is an object that “a subject … might himself naturally and effortlessly use to define what he or his fellows see, feel, think, imagine, and so on, and which he would readily understand when similarly applied by others.” An experience-distant concept “is one that specialists of one sort or another … employ[s] to forward their scientific, philosophical, or practical aims.” Geertz speaks here of the formation of generalizable principles, categories, and concepts that can be apprehended or applied beyond a particular social context. See Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 57.
 
8
Miller 2016, 47–48.
 
9
David C. Gompert and John Gordon IV, War by Other Means: Building Complete Capabilities for Counterinsurgency (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2008), xxvii.
 
10
Legitimacy in counterinsurgency operations is both an obvious political concern and a moral one. Army/Marine Corps field manual FM 3-24 expressly addresses legitimacy in counterinsurgency operations in these terms. Speaking of lessons learned by French counterinsurgents in Algeria who utilized torture to achieve military intelligence aims, FM 3-24 draws this conclusion: “[the use of torture] empowered the moral legitimacy of the opposition, undermined the French moral legitimacy, and caused internal fragmentation among serving officers that led to an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1962. In the end, failure to comply with moral and legal restrictions against torture severely undermined French efforts and contributed to their loss despite several significant military victories.”
 
11
Strawser 2010, 356.
 
12
Strawser 2010, 343.
 
13
Strawser 2010, 357.
 
14
Strawser 2010, 357.
 
15
Walzer, Michael. 2015. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 5th ed. (New York, NY: Basic Books) 16–20.
 
16
Strawser 2010, 356.
 
17
Strawser 2010, 343
 
18
Strawser 2010, 356. Strawser’s argument here relies heavily on ideas developed by Jeff McMahan that hold that combatants, depending on the justness of their cause, are not moral equals and thus have wider or narrower moral latitude in the undertaking of combat. Combatants fighting for an unjust cause have no moral right to kill or defend themselves, whereas soldiers fighting for a just cause have the right not to be killed and therefore enjoy a greater level of protection. See McMahan, Jeff. 2011. Killing in War (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 13–14.
 
19
Strawser 2010, 344.
 
20
Strawser 2010, 356.
 
21
Strawser 2010, 357.
 
22
Strawser 2010, 357.
 
23
Galliot 2012, 63. I must note that Strawser does pay lip service to jus ad bellum concerns in light of asymmetry in “Moral Predators.” However, his discussion is less about justice in the resort to war that is the traditional scope of jus ad bellum concerns and more about the dismissal of the utilitarian concern that extreme asymmetry makes it so governments do not have to think twice about the cost of war before using it as a tool to safeguard their self-interests.
 
24
Galliot 2012, 62.
 
25
Galliot 2012, 63.
 
26
Galliot 2012, 63.
 
27
Galliot 2012, 63–64.
 
28
Galliot 2012, 63.
 
29
Jalali, Ali A., and Lester W. Grau. 1995. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War (Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office), 400.
 
30
Walzer 2015, 195.
 
31
Jalali and Grau 1995, 408.
 
32
Jalali and Grau 1995, 414.
 
33
Gibbons-Neff 2015.
 
34
Wafamal, Zalmay. 2014. “Cultural Dynamics of Afghanistan: Religion and Pashtunwali.” In Beyond Strategies: Cultural Dynamics in Asian Connections, edited by Priya Singh, et al. (Kolkata, India: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies).
 
35
Kakar, Palwasha. n.d. “Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority.” Afghan Legal History Project. http://​www.​law.​harvard.​edu/​programs/​ilsp/​research.
 
36
Porter, Gareth. n.d. “CIA Drone Operators Oppose Strikes as Helping al Qaeda.” IPS-Inter Press Service. http://​ipsnews.​net/​news.​asp?​idnews=​51706.
 
37
Landay, Jonathan S. 2009. “Do U.S. drones kill Pakistani extremists or recruit them.” McClatchy DC, April 07, 2009. http://​www.​mcclatchydc.​com/​2009/​04/​07/​65682/​do-us-drones-killpakistani-extremists.​html.
 
38
Shinwari, Naveed A. 2012. “Understanding FATA: Attitudes Towards Governance, Religion, and Society in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” 5th ed. Islamabad, Pakistan: Community Appraisal and Motivation Program. CAMP operates specifically in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area which is populated by Pashtuns. The continuity of Pashtun culture and the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwestern FATA and the fact that U.S. use of UAV strikes continues into this region means that UAV use may strike similar cultural registers in FATA that are applicable to the broader Pashtun population both in FATA and in Afghanistan.
 
39
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Afghan Taliban). 2013. “A reflection on the American drone war strategy.” Voice of Jihad. https://​www.​alemarahenglish.​af/​. Emphasis added.
 
40
H.G. Raverty (Maj.), A Dictionary of the Puk’hto or Pus’hto: or language of the Afghans; with remarks on the originality of the language and its affinity to other oriental languages, etc. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1867), 270.
 
41
Junaid, Muhammad. 2010. Living the Code of Honor: Pashtunwali and Entrepreneurial Identity of Afghans in Peshawar, Paper presented at the University of Liverpool and Keele University Institute for Public Policy and Management Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences. September 1, 2010.
 
42
Michael Walzer provides a robust discussion of this type of “connected social criticism” in his monograph Interpretation and Social Criticism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1987).
 
43
See, for instance, Mary Douglas’s discussion of this trend among moral philosophers in Douglas, Mary. 1983. “Morality and Culture.” Ethics 93, no. 4 (July): 786–791.
 
44
Miller 2016, 40.
 
45
Miller 2016, 41.
 
Literature
go back to reference Douglas, Mary. 1983. “Morality and Culture.” Ethics 93, no. 4 (July): 786-791. Douglas, Mary. 1983. “Morality and Culture.” Ethics 93, no. 4 (July): 786-791.
go back to reference Galliot, Jai C. 2012. “Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles and the Asymmetry Objection: A Response to Strawser.” Journal of Military Ethics 11, no. 1 (March): 58-66. Galliot, Jai C. 2012. “Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles and the Asymmetry Objection: A Response to Strawser.” Journal of Military Ethics 11, no. 1 (March): 58-66.
go back to reference Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. 2015. “In rare attack, U.S. F-16 hit with smalls arm fire over Afghanistan.” Washington Post, October 19, 2015. Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. 2015. “In rare attack, U.S. F-16 hit with smalls arm fire over Afghanistan.” Washington Post, October 19, 2015.
go back to reference Jalali, Ali A., and Lester W. Grau. 1995. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office. Jalali, Ali A., and Lester W. Grau. 1995. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office.
go back to reference Junaid, Muhammad. 2010. Living the Code of Honor: Pashtunwali and Entrepreneurial Identity of Afghans in Peshawar, Paper presented at the University of Liverpool and Keele University Institute for Public Policy and Management Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences. Junaid, Muhammad. 2010. Living the Code of Honor: Pashtunwali and Entrepreneurial Identity of Afghans in Peshawar, Paper presented at the University of Liverpool and Keele University Institute for Public Policy and Management Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences.
go back to reference Khurshudyan, Isabelle, Mary Ilyushina, and Konstiantyn Khudov. 2022. “Russia and Ukraine are Fighting the First Full-Scale Drone War.” Washington Post, December 02, 2022. Khurshudyan, Isabelle, Mary Ilyushina, and Konstiantyn Khudov. 2022. “Russia and Ukraine are Fighting the First Full-Scale Drone War.” Washington Post, December 02, 2022.
go back to reference McMahan, Jeff. 2011. Killing in War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. McMahan, Jeff. 2011. Killing in War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
go back to reference Miller, Richard B. 2016. Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRef Miller, Richard B. 2016. Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRef
go back to reference Shinwari, Naveed A. 2012. “Understanding FATA: Attitudes Towards Governance, Religion, and Society in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” 5th ed. Islamabad, Pakistan: Community Appraisal and Motivation Program. Shinwari, Naveed A. 2012. “Understanding FATA: Attitudes Towards Governance, Religion, and Society in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” 5th ed. Islamabad, Pakistan: Community Appraisal and Motivation Program.
go back to reference Strawser, Bradley J. 2010. “Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles.” Journal of Military Ethics 9, no. 4 (December): 342-368. Strawser, Bradley J. 2010. “Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles.” Journal of Military Ethics 9, no. 4 (December): 342-368.
go back to reference Wafamal, Zalmay. 2014. “Cultural Dynamics of Afghanistan: Religion and Pashtunwali.” In Beyond Strategies: Cultural Dynamics in Asian Connections, edited by Priya Singh, et al. Kolkata, India: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian studies. Wafamal, Zalmay. 2014. “Cultural Dynamics of Afghanistan: Religion and Pashtunwali.” In Beyond Strategies: Cultural Dynamics in Asian Connections, edited by Priya Singh, et al. Kolkata, India: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian studies.
go back to reference Walzer, Michael 1987. Interpretation and Social Criticism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard. Walzer, Michael 1987. Interpretation and Social Criticism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
go back to reference Walzer, Michael. 2015. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 5th ed. New York, NY: Basic Books. Walzer, Michael. 2015. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 5th ed. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Metadata
Title
Inhuman Weapons: Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles and the Moral Salience of Culture to Their Use in Central Asia
Author
John Sianghio
Copyright Year
2024
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-48659-3_5

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