Notre Dame law professor to speak on use of drones

Le Moyne College in Syracuse will hold the next lecture in its Faith That Does Justice Series March 26, featuring University of Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell. O’Connell will present “Attack Drones, Cyber-Weapons and Autonomous Robots: Law and Morality.”

   O’Connell’s presentation is part of a Le Moyne initiative to “work with both our students and the local community to raise awareness around the connections between faith and the service of social justice,” said Father David McCallum, SJ, director of mission and identity at the college. The New York province of Jesuits has four priorities, which include addressing domestic poverty, immigration reform, peace and environmental justice, Father McCallum said. Aiming to present topics with both local and global significance, previous lectures in the series have addressed hydrofracking and neighborhood revitalization. O’Connell was chosen to participate in the series because of her reputation “as a person who’s really making the link between Catholic social teaching and the concern about illegal use of military drones as an abuse of human rights,” Father McCallum said.

   O’Connell is the Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. She has studied, taught and published widely on international law concerning the use of military force, particularly on the U.S.’s use of armed drones — remotely piloted aircraft armed with missiles — to kill suspected terrorists abroad.

   O’Connell said her lecture will expand broadly on several topics: what international law requires with regard to the use of military force; the development and proliferation of new military weapons, such as drones and cyber weapons; the Obama administration’s arguments for using such weapons; and her argument that the U.S. is not in compliance with international law in regard to its use of those weapons outside areas of armed conflict. O’Connell, who is Catholic, will also address elements of just war doctrine and the moral and ethical dimensions of the use of military force.

   “There is very consistent teaching today between the Catholic Church and international law,” O’Connell said.

   “Under international law there are only three lawful bases” for using military force, according to O’Connell. “If a sovereign nation launches a significant armed attack on the United States [for example], then the United States is permitted under international law to respond in kind with a significant military attack,” she said. Military force can also be used if the United Nations Security Council authorizes it or if a government that is facing a civil war requests assistance to fight that civil war, she added.

   “Consistent with just war teaching, international law also says you have to do some further investigation, even if you have one of those three bases: Is it necessary? Have you tried everything else? Will it do more good than harm? Would you be able to keep the amount of killing that you do proportionate to its lawful and ethical purpose?” she said. Just war teaching and international law also stipulate additional rules, such as targeting only those responsible, O’Connell said.

   Arguments that “the U.S. is an exceptional nation and we should be allowed to do good through military force more broadly than other countries — so we should have an exceptional situation under international law — that doesn’t fit Catholic thinking or teaching,” O’Connell says. “Or people will argue that terrorism has ended all of that discussion about international law and just war, and now we just have to ‘get them before they get us.’ That’s consequentialist thinking, utilitarian — that is certainly not appropriate to a Church that believes in divine power and the afterlife. The ends don’t justify the means. Most of these arguments, trying to get around international law, are neither consistent with international law nor with fundamental moral teaching, especially the teaching of the Catholic Church, where human dignity, human life — God’s creation in general — is the most precious legacy that we have from our maker. We need to strive in every way to protect it and to strive to be ever more peaceful and create a world in which greater peace is always possible.”

   O’Connell’s lecture will be held in the Panasci Family Chapel at Le Moyne College in Syracuse at 7 p.m. on March 26. It is free and open to the public. For more information, call (315) 445-4525.

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