Senior Honors Projects, 2010-2019

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Department of Political Science


Jonathan Keller

Kerry Crawford

Timothy Walton


This work focuses on the legality and ethics of targeted killings via drones conducted by the United States. The first section of this work looks at the use of drone strikes by the U.S. government as they fall outside of the traditional notion of a zone of armed conflict, that being one that can be defined geographically and temporally, and explores whether these strikes could be considered legal under international humanitarian law and the international law of self-defense. This work assumes that an armed conflict exists between the United States and the non-state armed actors that have been targeted by these drone strikes to explore whether the strikes could be considered legal under those two international legal regimes. The second section looks at these strikes from an ethics perspective. It explores if the ethical questions raised by drones are indeed novel, if drone strikes conducted by the United States satisfy the principles provided under Just War Theory, the impact drones have on the application of military ethics, and the ethical concerns raised by fully-autonomous weapon systems. This work argues that drones can be a legal and ethical weapon system, but the failure of international law to recognize a new, hybrid category of armed conflict has clouded the debate surrounding drones. The adoption of transnational armed conflict as a new type of conflict classification is presented as a solution to the problem posed by drones and contemporary conflict dynamics to better define and explain conflicts involving a state and a non-state armed actor that crosses and/or maintains bases of operations across international borders.



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