The debate about drone warfare is complex and beyond my capabilities or intentions here. For a far-ranging discussion I recommend the The Quarterly DAG-3QD Peace and Justice Symposium: Drones.
The symposium participants discuss one of the core issues of the debate, “the threshold problem.” In the final essay of the Symposium, Reply to Critics: No Easy Answers, Bradley Jay Strawser writes
Of course, the very notion that a threat can be justifiably blocked by killing, while sound in principle and sometimes in practice, is ripe for abuse and misuse. So the pressing moral issue for the drone campaign is how the notion of “imminent threat” is being evaluated, measured, and properly understood.
…I find it insightful of Levine to point out how the distinction between intelligence and military action in the US has all but collapsed. I agree with him that this is a serious problem. The CIA should be in the business of intelligence, not direct lethal action. One wonders then, whether drones are merely a symptom of this state of affairs or a partial cause of it?
Additionally, CK MacLeod, in Further on Pathos v the Drones Conventionalizing the Unconventionalizable expands the focus and summarizes a discomfort with drone warfare I share.
We can explain this ancient-present predicament as follows: Those great confrontations, with their all but unimaginably great death and destruction, produced the “conventions” of war within and against which 4th Generation warriors define themselves. By design and necessity, “un-conventional” warfare cannot be handled entirely by “conventional” warmaking, “conventional” thinking about warfare, or the legal and political “conventions” that have not caught up with it and that it means to defy. We feel as though we are in a void between the former, obsolete conventions and that which has not been conventionalized and perhaps cannot be conventionalized,
Our relation to any void is not knowing. Here, even the horrors humanity has managed to invent in the past pause, not knowing. Is this in fact an incremental technological innovation in war, or, as it seems to feel to many, a change in direction, in type.
The visceral revulsion of many seems to indicate a sense that these drones have, or will assume a life of their own, that despite their clearly mechanical appearance, they inhabit the uncanny valley.
Certainly science fiction has from its beginning responded to, formed and fed fantasies of our creations living for themselves and threatening us. Many of the monsters of myth, from Gilgamesh on, seem on the surface as some sort of unnatural union when they really are human creations becoming alive.