The Politics and Ethics of Drone Bombing in its Historical Context

  • Afxentis Afxentiou

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis intervenes in current debates concerning the violence of armed drones, developing a historical perspective on what is predominantly understood to be a novel form of warfare. It argues that debates on drones overlook the important linkages between drone warfare and earlier regimes of violence from the air. On the basis of a historical analysis of drone warfare, it offers a critique of drone bombing that goes beyond the narrative of “targeted killings”.

    The first part of this dissertation, comprising Chapter 1, introduces the central problematic of the thesis by revealing the crucial differences between, on the one hand, a description of drones strikes drawn from testimonies of people living under drones and, on the other, an account of these strikes based on the targeting methodology the U.S. military follows. This part demonstrates that the frame of “targeted killings” fails to offer an adequate lens through which the multifaceted violent effects of drone bombing can be explained, understood and criticised.
    The two chapters that constitute the second part of this thesis employ a genealogical historical method, demonstrating that the broader violent effects wrought by drone strikes – which testimonies reveal, but current military doctrine effaces – are intrinsically bound up with the development of the air weapon. More specifically, Chapter 2 offers a detailed account of the emergence of air power theory and discusses the doctrine of “strategic bombing”. Chapter 3 examines how the British colonial territories functioned as a testing ground for assessing, adjusting and consolidating this doctrine.

    The third part brings this historical perspective to bear on discussions about drone warfare. Chapter 4 offers a critical review of the literature on drones, arguing that the tendency to frame drone warfare as a radically new form of armed violence forces critical thinking into the discursive straightjacket of the “targeted killings” narrative. Chapter 5 offers a critique of the “targeted killings” framework by inquiring into the manhunting doctrine, developed in recent years by U.S. military theorists. In the afterword to the thesis, it is argued that a critical account of the violence of armed drones must be able to identify and defy discursive framings that work towards making the horror and destruction wrought by drones unobservable.
    Date of AwardOct 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorMichael Neu (Supervisor), Robin Dunford (Supervisor) & Mark Devenney (Supervisor)


    • Drone Bombing
    • Air Power
    • Colonial Bombing
    • Targeted Killings
    • Manhunting

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