Accountability for Targeted Drone Strikes Against Terrorists?

| March 2015
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The questions of whether and how to target individuals for killing, and the consequences of doing so, raise difficult issues. Allen Buchanan and Robert O. Keohane, two acute observers of world politics and international institutions, have offered a template for international regulation and accountability that seeks to address some of the dilemmas raised by targeted drone strikes. No short article can consider every major issue in such a proposal; all work, especially initial attempts to pioneer an area of inquiry and offer the rationale and basic structure for a new international regime, must make assumptions and set limits in order to focus on essential issues. I suggest, however, that the assumptions and the analytical and empirical limits of Buchanan and Keohane’s proposal are so problematic that they vitiate the value of the proposed international regime.

Buchanan and Keohane suggest that because of “the large scale of major terrorist attacks,” terrorism is an act of war, not criminal violence. Thus, the “war paradigm”—not the “law enforcement paradigm”—best fits the problem of preventing and responding to large-scale terrorist threats. While the choice to act from within the war paradigm is obviously consequential, I do not have space to parse it here. I suggest, however, that the problem of terrorism can and probably ought to be approached from both war and law enforcement paradigms. The question is deciding which paradigm takes precedence and explicating the kinds of circumstances that determine when one or the other should be applied.

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Category: Issue 29.1, Symposium: Toward A Drone Accountability Regime

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