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Flying Without Risk: The Norms on Warriors and Their Application to Drone Pilots

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For the technologically advanced militaries of modern states, the intrinsic risk of waging war has been greatly reduced. This process is perhaps no clearer than in the case of military robotics and armed drones, technologies that greatly distance the soldier from the battlefield. Not only have these technological innovations wrought important changes on the battlefield, but, as this paper argues, the use of armed drones has increasingly transformed contemporary notions of warriors and risk, and, in turn, states' approaches to warfare. Because drone pilots participate in a distanced warfare and are not exposed to the same dangers as other soldiers, they fail to be tested in traditional martial virtues such as courage and sacrifice. Thus, they are neither celebrated nor recognized by our increasingly risk-averse society, leading to a certain disenchantment of drone pilots. This article first traces normative debates over warriors and the position of drone pilots within such conceptions. It then advances a normative argument in favour of more clearly including and accepting drone pilots within popular narratives and understandings of modern warfare.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2017

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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