On Drones and War

Alan Cai

October 13, 2023

In a letter written to Joseph Banks in 1783, Benjamin Franklin expressed, “There never was a good war, or a bad peace.” Although wars can be justified on the basis of self defense or treaty enforcement, their purpose should never be to kill people. War is solely a tool of last resort and should only be invoked to ensure nations uphold international convention and customs.

With the advent of modern technology at the dawn of the 21st century, unmanned machine warfare transitioned from a distant vision to a reality.

Without the burden of protecting human occupants, military machines have much more leeway in their design freedom, weapons capacity, and maneuverability. The M1A2 Abrams, the premier tank of the United States Army, weighs north of 60 tons, twice the weight of a typical humpback whale. The tremendous weight is not only a liability when nimbleness and versatility trumps firepower in an era where urban and asymmetrical warfare is most common, but also a hefty constraint on quantity and manufacture speed, factors that are often more important than efficacy in real-life war situations.

Tanks are scarcely the only example, numerous warships, jets, and submarines are rapidly transitioning to automated unmanned systems, ensuring maximum weapons utility and minimum protection.

Much of the armor and plating in tanks and ships is used to protect their human operators and volatile magazines. Without people inside, designs could be streamlined to focus on mission objectives and deterrence without putting human beings in the line of fire.

A conspicuous flaw remains when evaluating the argument in favor of drone warfare: when weapon magazines and capabilities are expanded, more people can and likely will get killed.

The removal of human occupants inside conventional war vehicles is not necessarily a positive aspect when holistically evaluating war objectives itself. War machines have one mission: to kill human beings. By removing the physical presence of individuals in the cockpit and making machines operate more efficiently in killing, it could be argued that the end result is worse. War could conceivably be transformed from humans fighting humans to machines brutally slaughtered humans with ruthlessness and efficiency no human-run counterpart could possibly replicate.

When unmanned war instruments take the place of humans in enacting the enforcement of international norms, the intent and result of such conflicts are much less altruistic: countries will be resolved to deplete the human population(whether civilian or military) of opposing nations with minimal effect on their own, exacerbating an eerie and disturbing verisimilitude already present throughout history. The only solution to warfare is cessation.