Drone Theory – Chamayou

For our first book review, we have chosen Drone Theory by Grégoire Chamayou.

It has become quite influential in the study of drones, and really set the tone for a lot of the early research on drones. At the recent conference Drones and Lone Wolves, every participant referred to this book, so we are glad to finally review it. Our thoughts are below:

Grégoire Chamayou’s Drone Theory is an interesting book, and a great ‘first read’ for the new TTAC21 research group. While it is published for the general public, and so suffers from a lack of academic rigour in some areas, it does draw attention to a number of issues pertinent to the drone warfare discussion. One of the most significant for me is the concept of ‘pattern of life’ and the way in which computer algorithms are being used to assess the ‘threat’ or ‘potential threat’ of individuals being monitored by these armed drones. The implications here for not only warfare but criminality and the definition of the criminal are quite staggering, the logical consequences of such pre-emptive action reading increasingly like a work of dystopian science fiction.

From my own research, another discussion that I found quite interesting in Drone Theory is the part where Chamayou raises the question of humanity, and how soldiers see themselves in the soldier vs assassin debate. For Chamayou, there is something fundamentally quite human in the decision not to shoot the exposed enemy who might be smoking or taking a break, when they are not directly taking part in the conflict. Though logic and orders may suggest you should shoot said exposed soldier, there is a moment there in which the soldier risks becoming an assassin: ‘It is a matter not of duty by of becoming. The crucial, decisive question is not “What should I do?” but “What will I become?”’ (199).

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

In my comment on Drone Theory, I wanted to pull something specific out, Chamayou mentions a difference between ‘fighting’ and ‘killing’ (p.199). He exemplifies this be referring to the fact that soldiers are legally allowed to kill their enemy simply because they are the enemy (in an International Armed Conflict), whether they are ‘naked, dishevelled, disarmed, smoking a cigarette, or even asleep.’ Although this doesn’t take into account those who could be hors de combat (see Art.41 of Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions), it does raise an interesting point regarding autonomous weapon systems.

When we think of killing in warfare, we think about the ‘kill or be killed’ of high-intensity combat in which people close and kill the enemy. But, the issue Chamayou raises forces us to think about killing when the enemy is not a direct threat. A human solider may choose to take an enemy in such a position as a prisoner. A drone pilot may choose to wait until a target actually poses a threat to civilians or friendly forces. However, an autonomous weapon system programmed to fire at anything it calculates is an enemy would not stop, and consider the ethical implications of firing at a target that is sleeping. Perhaps, an autonomous weapon system really, is not a fighting robot, but a killing machine.

Yet, I seem to remember a documentary on the Falklands War where Maj. Chris Keeble who took command on 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment at the battle of Goose Green following the death of Lt-Col. H Jones, describe the battle as ‘pure killing’ – raising the issue of the military as ‘cold-blooded killers’. However, Keeble managed to negotiate a peaceful Argentine surrender during a lul in the battle. No autonomous weapon system could do this, it would remain a killing machine.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

As always, if you wish to contribute, please comment below, or see the contact tab.

3 thoughts on “Drone Theory – Chamayou

  1. The interesting thing about the ‘sleeping soldier’ problematic is of course that in many situations it would be deemed perfectly acceptable to kill a sleeping soldier (I’m thinking maybe for example a covert raid behind enemy lines). This brings me back to the Paul Kahn notion of the State as a theological construct — for example the way in which we invest acts such as killing and dying for the State with religious meaning. I.e. it’s ‘kill or be killed’, or ‘by sacrificing myself I will be remembered’. Killing a sleeping soldier seems to go against this principle, and yet in certain circumstances we seem to think that it’s alright. War is just littered with paradoxes!


    1. There is an emerging notion that in armed conflicts, where possible capture should be carried out, rather than simply killing an adversary. But, this isn’t a norm yet, and so there is no (legal) reason to do so – ethically it might be a different story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s