Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Michael Fitzgerald

Committee Members

John Scheb, David Houston, David Reidy


This study explores the ethics, law, and strategy of targeted killings by drones in the War on Terror. It starts with an exploration of just war theory, its historical development and criteria, to create a foundational framework by which to analyze the ethics of drones as a tactic. Then it defines terrorism and insurgency, establishing how sub-state actors operate, and the strategies states will use to neutralize them as threats. This shows that the War on Terror is actually an armed conflict because terrorism and insurgency are forms of warfare under the law and in warfare theory. After looking at terrorism a broad concept, a history of the War on Terror, its operational context, and the specific nature of al-Qaeda and its affiliates are explained to give context to the ethical debate. Because of the actions of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the U.S. is at war with these organizations and is allowed to use kinetic action against them. The study then approaches the history, law, geopolitics, and ethics of drone warfare to show targeted killings and strategic strikes are legitimate forms of kinetic action and are legal, ethical, and useful tactics to neutralize enemy combatants and terrorist organizations. Finally, using the cases of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia this study demonstrates that targeted killings by drones are proportional, discriminatory, and militarily necessary.

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