U.S. Drone Use and the Just War Tradition

Daniel Helø, David Meldgaard Houser & Carsten Baltzer Rode

Studenteropgave: Semesterprojekt


This study examines to what extent the Obama Administration legitimizes its use of drones by drawing on the conceptual framework of the just war tradition. In doing so, the study carries out a discourse analysis of the Obama Administration’s speeches on drone use and an internal legal memo, demonstrating how notions of the just war tradition are linked to the justification of the U.S. drone program. The discourse analysis is structured around the principles of the just war tradition in categorical terms. Thus, the analysis includes sections concerned with how the principles of just cause, right intention, proportionality etc. are apparent within key texts concerning U.S. drone use. In conducting such an examination, this study applies the discourse analytical framework of Norman Fairclough. While the principles of the just war tradition should be understood as conceptual categories for the analysis, Fairclough’s terminology serve as analytical tools in assessing to what extent the arguments of the Obama Administration are linked to these principles. It is argued that the Obama Administration’s framing of the U.S. drone program incorporates!principles of both jus ad bellum and jus in bello to a high extent in order to legitimize the use of drones. In this respect, the principles of the just war tradition are essential components in constructing a threat, in justifying a response!to this threat and the specific manner in which a response is formulated, i.e. how drones are being framed as the response to this threat. The study finds support for the thesis that the Obama Administration justifies its use of drones through an ideational framework of warfare rooted in the just war tradition. Additionally, it is argued that the Obama administration does not only reproduce the notions of the just war tradition; they recontextualize the tradition by applying the conventional framework of just warfare to a proclaimed ‘new’ and ‘unconventional’ conflict setting, thus ascribing novel meanings to the tradition.

UddannelserGlobal Studies, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Bachelor el. kandidat
Udgivelsesdato28 jan. 2014
VejledereLaust Schouenborg


  • International Relations
  • USA
  • drones
  • UCAV
  • discourse analysis
  • foreign policy analysis
  • Just war tradition