Necro-Ethics Part 10. Skin in the Game: Drones & War without Warfare

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The Ghost 4 drone

Having now explored several key themes of Gregoire Chamayou’s critique of drone warfare in the previous sections of this digest, it is now possible to come to a conclusion about the overall themes underpinning Drone Theory (2015).

First of all, what is so fascinating about Chamayou’s critique of drone warfare is that it is not primarly rooted in strategic or military considerations, but in an incredibly rich philosophical discourse based around the ethics (necro-ethics) of killing in combat. As well as the theorists covered in this digest series, Chamayou draws on a constellation of further thinkers from across the political spectrum and applies their thought to his analysis of drone warfare; including Adorno, Arendt, Camus, de Maistre, Foucault, Freud, Grotius, Kant, Weil, and Schmitt, amongst many others.

Chamayou’s overall argument against drone warfare is very ‘based’, in that he uses militaristic arguments to make an anti-war case. For example, Chamayou’s fundamental critique of drone warfare is that it is cowardly and therefore makes war more likely. Chamayou’s deeper critique of drones seems to be that in some sense the problem with the incredibly destructive nature of modern warfare began with the rise of mechanisation.

This alienation from warfare engendered by killing from a distance began with gunpowder and the cannon, continued through the the advent of the gun, rifles, artillary, and finally the drone, whereby a pilot can kill with equanimity by remote control in an air-conditioned room thousands of miles away from the theatre of conflict where they cannot possibly be physically harmed. Yet, even though the moral buffering effect of killing from a distance eventually syncs up to the drone pilot’s psyche, causing high levels of PTSD, with the looming advent of totally autonomous drones even this final link between man and machine will be severed, and the state will be able to conduct warfare with impunity.

Fundamentally, removing the human body from the theatre of conflict reduces the cost of warfare to the state in terms of human life, thereby also undermining the power of anti-war protesters to make protest based on the risk presented to that life. This tendency is then compounded by the nature of the modern liberal state, which in trying to protect its citizens from harm has a natural fealty towards mechanised warfare, and ultimately totally autonomous drone warfare. Counterintuitivly, reducing the risk of harm to human bodies in combat makes war more likely.

In contrast, Chamayou seems to be calling for a return to a Clauswitzian approach to warfare in which combatants and the state are exposed to maximum risk. Such a state of affairs will reduce the prosecution of war because all parties will have skin in the game.

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