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Drones, Targeted Killings, and the Limitations of International Law

International Political Sociology

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The debate about drones has largely taken place on a legal terrain with various politicians, lawyers, and activists all seeking to establish whether or not targeted killings are legal under the existing framework of international law. In particular, they have raised concerns about the geographical and temporal scope of the “war on terror,” the legal status of those being targeted and whether or not these strikes can be considered discriminate, proportionate, and necessary. The aim of this article is not to settle these legal questions once and for all but to think about the limitations of framing the use of drones as a legal issue rather than an ethical, moral, or political concern. I will argue that the emphasis on international law distracts attention away from the horrors of war by masking the pain and suffering that is caused in favor of technical debates about the application of particular legal codes. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, Adriana Cavarero, and Elaine Scarry, I will argue that we need to turn our attention back to the embodied experiences of those affected.