Necro-Ethics part 4. Thanatotactics: Jus in Bello, Clauswitz and the Death Pact

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Predator UAV schematic

Under what circumstances is the killing of another human being permitted? This chilling question sits at the heart of jus in bello; the seemingly strange idea that war must have rules in order to somehow separate killing from murder. Indeed, jus in bello forms the lodestar around which all Chamayou’s subsidiary critiques of the use of drones in warfare revolve. Whilst Kant’s categorical imperative posits drones as an immoral form of warfare; orthodox price theory means drones make war more likely, and virtueless warfare argues drone pilots and suicide bombers share some moral equivalence, it is the concept of jus in bello which underpins them all.

The founding principle of jus in bello is that of an equal right for combatants to kill each other without this being a crime. But what can possibly justify such a proposition? Chamayou draws on the prominent 19th-century Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s commentary that soldiers draw their moral strength from being willing to die. Combatants enter into a death pact with each other; I can kill you if you can kill me. In such a relationship the violence of war is mitigated as if it had been done “by agreement” (p.160). At the very least this moral equivalence amount to something like the right to “a chance of combat” (ibid). Drones undermine this precept by removing all physical danger to the pilot. Without this fundamental pact stemming from jus in bello, war degenerates into “Thanatotactics: a putting to death”; no longer a duel between combatants but a stalking between “hunter and prey” (pp.161, 163).

With the concept of jus in bello now clarified, the next instalment will continue its journey to examine Chamayou’s taxonomy of the phenomenological pathologies that can arise in the gap between the body and the weapon in drone warfare.

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