“America’s Drone Campaign is Both Moral and Effective”

Wednesday 27 February 2013, 5.23pm | VIDEO NOW ONLINE

Add to Calendar >


Watch the video

Listen to the podcast



Bug splats. That’s what the American operators of drones, sitting in safety thousands of miles away, call the casualties of a drone attack in Pakistan or Yemen. Why bug splats? Because that’s what a human body zapped by a drone looks like on those Americans’ video screens. Thousands of those splats were in fact innocent bystanders unfortunate enough to be nearby the “target”. We call this warfare but it isn’t: it’s assassination. Drones allow political and military leaders, unhampered by public or legal scrutiny, to eliminate anyone they want killed. But moral and legal arguments aside, what do drones actually achieve? A drone strike is a sure way to inflame a community against the West and throw it into the arms of the local militants. In sum, drones are not just illegal and immoral. They are counterproductive.

That’s the cry we hear as we learn more about America’s drone programme. But do the gentle souls who condemn drones have a better strategy for dealing with the militants operating within the borders of states that want rid of them? In this kind of situation where you’re not fighting a regular army, targeting enemy ringleaders is an imperative. And drones, it turns out, are more effective than troops in hunting down the bad guys and cause far fewer civilian deaths than conventional warfare. In many cases they are actually welcomed by the local population who are only too happy to see the militants come under attack. Thanks to drones, jihadis now know there is nowhere to hide. No one is saying they are pretty: violence and death are always abominable. But in an imperfect and often violent world, the use of drones is moral and effective.

Those are the arguments for and against this new and increasingly important form of warfare, which is the topic of our new monthly Versus debate with Google+.

Combining the flair of Intelligence Squared debates with the innovative technology of Google+ Hangouts, we’re bringing the world’s best speakers to the fray, either hosting them on stage at the Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio in London or beaming them in from wherever they are in the world. And you’ll be able to join us either at the venue or by tuning in on the Versus Google+ and Versus YouTube channels.

Speakers for the motion

David AaronovitchDavid Aaronovitch

British author, broadcaster, and Times columnist


Douglas MurrayDouglas Murray

Writer, columnist and Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society


Speakers against the motion

Noel SharkeyProfessor Noel Sharkey

Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield


Clive Stafford-SmithClive Stafford-Smith

Civil Rights lawyer, Founder and Director of Reprieve, who recently campaigned alongside Imran Khan in Pakistan against drone use


Expert panel (via Google+ Hangouts)

Professor Michael Boyle
Professor Michael Boyle

Counterterrorism adviser on the Obama 2008 presidential campaign and assistant professor of political science at La Salle University, Philadelphia

Professor Christine FairProfessor Christine Fair

Assistant professor in the Center for Peace and Security Studies (CPASS), Georgetown University

Ibrahim MothanaIbrahim Mothana

24-year-old writer, activist and a co-founder of Yemen’s Watan Party


Dr. Mohammad TaqiDr Mohammad Taqi

Physician and columnist at the Daily Times, Pakistan




Jeremy O'GradyJeremy O’Grady

Editor-in-chief of The Week magazine and co-founder of Intelligence Squared