Press Release

New Dædalus Issue on “Ethics, Technology & War”


CAMBRIDGE, MA | September 22, 2016 – Today, more than a dozen militaries employ unmanned aerial vehicles—drones—in combat operations around the world. But while drones have become an iconic weapon in the Obama administration’s war on terror, the implications of the U.S. military’s targeted killing program are only beginning to be understood: drones may reduce collateral damage compared with conventional weapons, but could their ease of use also breed more conflict by lowering the political costs of engagement?

The rise of remote controlled warfare, cyber warfare, and autonomous weapons has raised complex questions—some new, some more familiar—about how new weapon technologies conform to the international laws of war. The use of these new technologies is further complicated by the nature of the conflict they are employed in: increasingly asymmetric warfare waged against nonstate actors. But in addition to challenges to traditional just war principles, new and emerging technologies and fresh international approaches are also providing opportunities for early warning of civil conflict, atrocity prevention, improved combat medicine, and more effective international peacekeeping.

Guest edited by Scott D. Sagan (Stanford University), the Fall 2016 issue of Dædalus on “Ethics, Technology & War” explores the questions and contradictions raised by the evolving state of twenty-first century warfare and politics, in the context of just war theory and the international laws of war. The issue gathers the perspectives of a multidisciplinary group of authors, who include political scientists, military practitioners, just war theorists, statesmen, philosophers, historians, ethicists, lawyers, and physicians.

In his essay “Just & Unjust Targeted Killing & Drone Warfare,” Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Study) argues that drone attacks ought to be subject to the same constraints as other forms of targeted killing in times of war. Walzer shows that the Obama administration’s secretive drone program has indeed relaxed restrictions on targeted killing, and has done so without public debate. Considering the question of whether to ban combat drones outright, he argues instead for the opening-up of the decision process to democratic scrutiny.

As former Commander of the United States Strategic Command, C. Robert Kehler’s (United States Air Force) responsibilities included planning, operating, and, if ordered by the president, employing the nation’s nuclear forces in combat. In his essay “Nuclear Weapons & Nuclear Use,” Kehler examines how nuclear weapons—once conceived to end a war—became the central means to prevent war. A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, though, debates continue on the efficacy of nuclear deterrence, the need for nuclear weapons, and the ethics surrounding them, including calls for the complete elimination of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. His experiences in the Air Force shape his arguments for the continued necessity of U.S. nuclear weapons for strategic deterrence, and he emphasizes that the credibility of the U.S. nuclear threat must be preserved, even as the role and prominence of these weapons have justifiably been reduced.

Jennifer M. Welsh (University of Oxford) considers “The Responsibility to Protect [R2P] after Libya & Syria.” Given the persistence of atrocity crimes, committed by both state and nonstate actors, Welsh examines the effectiveness of the R2P doctrine and the means by which we judge it. She looks specifically at the civil wars and international interventions in Libya and Syria, which have raised fundamental questions about the prospect of catalyzing international efforts to protect populations, particularly when there is disagreement over the costs and benefits of a coercive response.

And in “Just & Unjust War, Uses of Force & Coercion: An Ethical Inquiry with Cyber Illustrations,” David P. Fidler (Indiana University) examines the ethical and just war questions raised by the new methods of war, force, and coercion introduced by cyber technologies. Fidler discusses the political and ethical incentives for the use of cyber methods, but also the potential risks that invite further ethical deliberation. He also examines why, in the context of increasing geopolitical competition and conflict, the prospect for ethical consensus on just and unjust cyber coercion, force, and war is unlikely.

Essays in the Fall 2016 issue of Dædalus include:

  • Ethics, Technology & War by Scott D. Sagan (Stanford University)
  • Just & Unjust Targeted Killing & Drone Warfare by Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Study)
  • The Ethics & Morality of Robotic Warfare: Assessing the Debate over Autonomous Weapons by Michael C. Horowitz (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Just & Unjust War, Uses of Force & Coercion: An Ethical Inquiry with Cyber Illustrations by David P. Fidler (Indiana University Maurer School of Law)
  • Nuclear Weapons & Nuclear Use by C. Robert Kehler (Retired General, United States Air Force)
  • The Nuclear Necessity Principle: Making U.S. Targeting Policy Conform with Ethics & the Laws of War by Jeffery G. Lewis (James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies) and Scott D. Sagan (Stanford University)
  • The Responsibility to Protect after Libya & Syria by Jennifer M. Walsh (University of Oxford)
  • New Technology for Peace & Protection: Expanding the R2P Toolbox by Lloyd Axworthy (CUSO International) and A. Walter Dorn (Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College)
  • The Path to Last Resort: The Role of Early Warning & Early Action by Jennifer Leaning (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
  • From Armed Conflict to Political Violence: Mapping & Explaining Conflict Trends by Keith Krause (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)
  • Moral Character or Character of War? American Public Opinion on the Targeting of Civilians in Times of War by Benjamin Valentino (Dartmouth College)

Print and Kindle copies of the new issue can be ordered at:

NOTE: Please credit Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, when citing this editorial material.




For the American Academy
Andy Tiedemann
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Interim Chief Communications Officer
Twitter: @americanacad




New Dilemmas in Ethics, Technology, and War

Scott D. Sagan