Skip to content

Ioannis Kalpouzos, Armed Drone, in International Law’s Objects 118 (Jessie Hohmann & Daniel Joyce eds., 2018).

Abstract: The armed drone, as an object and a symbol, is everywhere: in the news, in popular culture, in scholarship. Through and beyond its aesthetic and technical features, this chapter argues that the drone signifies the changing relationship between law and war. The object communicates a set of promises, of war as precise and asymmetrical governance: promises that this chapter assesses and critiques through a discussion of the object’s material and symbolic functions. The drone is very real, but it is also a symbol, a myth, a fixture in our imagination. Indeed, the very image accompanying this chapter, which is considered to be ‘the most widely reproduced image’ of a drone, is tellingly revealed to be a construct, a fiction, superimposed on stock images of the Afghan landscape. The very real object of the armed drone is appropriated, serving as a language to convey and debate the hopes and anxieties over what it signifies, namely the new way of war. To the extent that this new way of war is accepted as ‘the new paradigm’, the object serves Barthes’ ultimate understanding of the myth, namely that ‘in the eyes of the myth-consumer…it transforms history into nature’. History can be contested; it is ongoing; its course can be altered. Nature is entrenched. The object, by compellingly communicating the myth of ‘the new paradigm’, imposes it. International legal language is at the very center of the tension between the drone’s reality and its promise. International lawyers debate the compatibility of (the use of) drones with the principles of distinction and proportionality, their contribution to the creation of a borderless battlefield and the effects of this to the sovereignty of (weak) states, the classification of combatants and individuals who can be targeted, and the overall manifest lack of transparency and accountability in their use. The armed drone’s significance in international law and international legal debate can be explored through three perspectives/images: the image of the object itself as proliferated in the media, the image(s) the object generates for the targeters, and the image of the object for the targeted.