My paper seeks to address the following question: does the current decision-making process to employ drones for military operations, in which the executive exercises unilateral control and informs the legislative branch after the fact (ex posto facto) create moral hazard(s)? Further, it seeks to address a question that has been almost entirely ignored thus far: what are the plausible alternatives, and would such alternatives also create moral hazard(s)? I define moral hazard as any situation in which an agent has a perverse incentive to take unnecessary risk because that agent does not incur the possible costs of failure and/or faces no repercussions for failure. Further, any situation in which an agent is preventing from performing a morally necessary action will be judged as a potential moral hazard. As a final prefatory note, I outline two characteristics of UAV combat that make it a particularly problematic case: swiftness of action, the inherent strategic benefit of acting quickly and decisively; and covertness, the inherent tension between the necessity of the Executive to conduct operations in secret and the Legislative’s duty to preserve democratic accountability. I conclude that the current unilateral decision-making process is indeed morally hazardous. However, I also conclude that plausible alternative schemes such as the necessity of legislative or judicial authorization before the fact (a priori) also create moral hazards. There is no right answer, only varying schemes which appease the concerns of those more interested in the effective conduction of security policy via unilateral control on the one hand; and those more interested in preserving democratic accountability on the other. I urge the reader to note the many questions this paper does not seek to address, including the legality of targeting American citizens—this is another subject entirely.
To test my inferences I employ an alteration of Professor George Tsebelis’ Veto player theory (an abridged explanation of which can be found in my first blog post). For three different systems, I employ this game theory to exemplify how the normative institutional structure of the decision-making process will affect the behavior of internal political actors. The easiest way to detail the process is to simply provide the figures and their respective potential moral hazards (PMHs):
Ex Posto Facto Congressional Review (Current System)
PMH 1.1: Lack of Accountability
PMH 1.2: Perverse Incentive to Use Force
PMH 1.3: Politicization of Force
A Priori Congressional Approval (Hypothetical Alternative #1)
PMH 2.1: Prevention of Morally Necessary Action (via the increased likelihood of inaction due to institutional constraints)
PMH 2.2: Politicization of Force
PMH 2.3: Potential for Intelligence Leaks
PMH 2.4: Sacrifice of Legitimate Congressional Review
A Priori Judicial Authorization (Hypothetical Alternative #2)
PMH 3.1: Prevention of Morally Necessary Action
PMH 3.2: Perverse Incentive for the Executive to Disinform
The paper details each PMH but space prevents me from doing so here. If you’re interested I’ll be happy to discuss my conclusions in more detail at the conference. See you soon!
— Miles Kellerman (University of Wisconsin)