Reports emerged last week that the White House will make it easier for the United States to launch drone strikes, potentially opening the door to attacks that could kill civilian bystanders.
Compared to another travel ban, a new health-care law and an investigation into Russian interference in our democracy, this new drone policy attracted little public attention. But this critical policy shift in American defense stands in stark contrast with the religious values of many of our nation’s citizens.
Since the first reported drone strike took place in 2002, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have been a key tool for ensuring our national security. However, while they have been used more than 600 times over the last 15 years, their use has been strictly regulated under clearly delineated rules. Based in international law and political guidelines, these rules are also formed in part by “just war theory,” an intellectual tradition with a rich theological history.
Just war theory is the product of more than 1,500 years of thought. The primary Christian contributors to this intellectual tradition were St. Augustine in the 5th century and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. Drawing from scripture and ancient philosophy, Augustine and Aquinas most fully articulated the ways Christians could justly participate in combat, detailing what could be considered jus ad bellum (justice before war) and jus in bello (justice in war).