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Con (against)
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The Contender
Pro (for)
6 Points

Targeted Killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/30/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,922 times Debate No: 22432
Debate Rounds (3)
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Resolved: Targeted Killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool.

Pro will be defending targeted killing as morally permissible
Con will be refuting targeted killing as not morally permissible.

Some basic rules:
1. Cases, if too long to fit the 8000 character limit, may be posted in a google document or some other link that we can all see. All refutations must be outside of a link.
2. In the event of a forfeit, all seven points are to be given to the winner.
3. This will be an LD styled debate. All forms of LD cases are acceptable.

Round format will go as such:
1. Con posts debate. Pro accepts and posts case.
2. Con posts case and refutes. Pro defends and refutes.
3. Con defends and refutes. Pro defends and refutes. No new arguments in this round.


Since this is a Lincoln-Douglas type of debate I would ask that anyone reading this only vote if they are familiar with the structure of a Lincoln-Douglas case.


I stand in firm affirmation of the resolution: “Targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool.”


Targeted Killing - “Premeditated, preemptive, and deliberate killing of an individual or individuals known to represent a clear and present threat to the safety and security of a state through affiliation with terrorist groups or individuals[2]."
Morally Permissible - Anything that is not morally prohibited. (Deni Elliott)

Foreign Policy - the policy of a sovereign state in its interaction with other sovereign states[3]

Value: National Security is defined as,
“The protection or the safety of a country’s secrets and its citizens[1]." National Security is the foremost moral obligation of National Governments. Nations need to do what is necessary, not only to ensure their own survival, but also to protect their citizens from threats. In order to achieve National Security, we need to eliminate terrorist threats.

VC: Rule Utilitarianism. Specifically, George Berkeley’s Rule Utilitarianism. Berkeley characterizes morality as adhering to sets of moral rules. These rules are framed with respect to the good, or utility, of mankind. An example of such a rule is, “We ought to not steal from one another.” The clear evidence that Rule Utilitarianism is valid, is that a society based on such rules will have more utility, or happiness, than a society without such rules.

Observation 1: The United Nations. The United Nations is a worldwide organization whose goal is to promote world peace and solve problems that challenge humanity. As of today, 193 sovereign nations are recognized by the United Nations. These Nations meet with each other to achieve consensus on solving global problems, and establishing International Law. The requirements for membership in the United Nations are laid out in Article 3 of the UN charter. Article 4 of the charter is as follows;
"Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations[4]."
What this means is that in order to be a participating nation in the UN, you are obligated to uphold the obligations laid out in the UN charter. Article 51 of the charter CLEARLY states; “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations[5]."

Observation 2: Doctrine of Double Effect. It can generally be agreed that it is morally permissible to combat and kill terrorist individuals, whether we are using targeted killing or not. It can also be generally agreed upon that is immoral to kill innocent civilians. What do we do when these two moral duties conflict with each other? We look to the Doctrine of Double Effect. The Doctrine of Double effect states that it is morally permissible to perform an act having two effects, one good and one evil, provided that the good, which is intended, outweighs the evil, which is merely foreseen. The good (which is the military objective) must be intended, and the evil (the innocent death(s) must be foreseen and not disproportionate to the good achieved.

Contention 1: The risk of inaction. In situations where the citizens of a state are directly threatened, that nation has the right to defend themselves, immediately, or preemptively. Just as our actions have consequences, our in-actions also have consequences. The greater the threat posed by the foreign power, the greater becomes the risk of inaction. We can’t just sit idly by and allow imminent dangers to occur, we need to take action, and targeted killing is the morally permissible answer to this. Leaders have a moral obligation to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks. By eliminating a very small number of enemy combatants, states can save the lives of thousands of citizens and even soldiers. Targeted Killing, abides by Rule Utilitarianism, because it provides for the general utility of the majority and still abides by the self-defense principle laid out by the United Nations Charter.

Contention 2: Terrorism.
Targeted Killing is first and foremost, a last resort. It is only undertaken when arresting the target poses an unreasonable risk to the acting state. Targeted Killing is a military goal, not a political one. We are not clearly not talking about assassination here. When we are dealing with terrorists, diplomacy is simply not an option. Terrorists typically have extremist beliefs and will not listen to reason. Arresting the targets in question is not a viable option other because terrorists organizations are not sovereign states or nations. They have no defined territory and they don’t publicly identify themselves. They operate covertly in nations that are unaware of their presence, or more often, unable to do anything about their presence. Another thing that makes arrest problematic is the fact that terrorists consciously select tactics that make civilian deaths likely. Terrorists deliberately hide themselves and their bases of operation within civilian populations, thereby drawing unwilling and unsuspecting innocents into fighting. These terrorists attempt to multiply their strength by relying on the Humanitarian morals of the west to not harm civilians. Regardless of how we attempt to combat the terrorists, it will be a lose-lose situation for us. Rather than sending solders in and endangering multiple lives, it’s much more practical to engage in targeted killing by using drones which utilize precise missile strikes to engage ground targets.

Contention 3: Targeted Killing is effective. The fact that targeted killing is an effective means of dealing with terrorist leaders is evidenced by the fact that Al Qaeda has been practically wiped out of its former strongholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistani officials report that the number of “high-value” Al Qaeda targets remaining in Pakistan has dwindled to a mere number of two[6]. Regardless of what my opponent argues here today, they cannot deny these results; Osama Bin Laden is dead, the core Al Qaeda network is near defeat, and the members that remain are scanning the sky for the metallic glints of the unmanned drones. Targeted Killing efficiently destroys the terrorist’s ability to wage war and inflict terror, while ensuring that collateral damage is kept to a minimum. It accomplishes the same military objectives as conventional war, without resorting to massive amounts of casualties. So in conclusion, Targeted Killing is morally permissible under Rule Utilitarianism. By its very nature, it is a more discriminating and humane means of self-defense than other, more conventional measures. Self-defense, which, once is again is permitted under the International Law laid out in the United Nations Charter and is necessary for the national security of a state.

Debate Round No. 1


As stated in the rules, my case is posted in the following google document link:

Please read through that before continuing on reading here.

Assuming you just read through my case, let's go to refuting his.

Let's start with his criterion of Rule-Util. This is flawed for a number of reasons:

First: Utilitarianism fails because the definition of what our results are, good or bad, is all relative. I could say that the result of punching a baby in the face meant that I received a piece of candy, which could be defined as a good outcome or that if I were to tackle my friend in order to save him from being hit by a car and break his ribs in the process, even though I possibly saved him, I injured him in possibly a worse way which could be seen as a negative outcome.

Second: Utilitarianism doesn’t make sense because we can never really be sure what an end is and what is just a link into a different impact. We can never know that if nuclear war were to happen, it would cause aliens to come and give us some amazing technology that betters humanity as a race. Moreover, it stops us from acting because we can never finish calculating the infinite possible things that make an end good, making it self-effacing because it doesn’t actually bring about good ends.

Third: Under util, we can never be sure that a proposition is 100% true. As long as someone promises that an action will bring about an end with a massive profit for all, society then has to take that route, even if they don’t believe it to be true. As long as someone promises a large enough impact, society then has to follow what he says, making util self-effacing.

Fourth: Conceptions of morality that are based off of desirability are circular. Parfit[1] writes:

According to desire-based theoriesreasons have to be provided by facts about what would fulfill our present desires. If we want future happiness as an end, this could give us instrumental reasons to have other desires, since it would give us reasons to want whatever would make us happy. But the fact that we had this desire could not give us a reason to have it. Desires cannot be self-supporting. Our wanting happiness as an end could not give us a reason to want happiness as an end.

This applies to util because the desire to maximize good bites straight into what this is saying. Our desire to maximize good cannot give us reason to actually maximize good. Our desires cannot be self-supporting, and since util is self-supporting, it’s logically circular, and thus flawed.

Fifth: Aggregation is nonsensical since combining disparate experiences is impossible. Ten headaches don’t become one migraine as there is no actor capable of experiencing the collective pain of ten people. Rather, moral theories must recognize individuals’ subjective claims, which doesn’t require that we minimize suffering since my happiness is only valuable for my sake - we can’t weigh between 2 individuals’ interests.

But if you don't buy any of the five reasons I've already talked about, you can refer to my case, which proves that morality is subjective. If morality is subjective, as per the Joyce evidence, then nothing can be morally permissible. So this functions before any of the rest of the arguments. If I'm winning off of my case, it's impossible for my opponent to win.

Now let's talk about his observation one. There's two things that I'd like to point out as slightly contradictory. He says that in order to get into the UN, you have to be "peace-loving". Last I checked, killing someone wasn't exactly a really peaceful thing to do. Regardless of who you're killing, it's still a bit violent, which, last I checked, was the opposite of peaceful. The second thing I'd like to point out is in his Article 51 fo the UN charter, he says that any member of the UN should prevent things like self-defense. But he then defines targeted killing as preemptive, which means it happens BEFORE any sort of attack that would warrant self-defense. So under the UN, targeted killing wouldn't be justified, as per his definition of targeted killing.

With his observation one self-refuted, let's turn to observation two, which is the Doctrine of Double Effect. There's a few fatal errors here that I would like to point out. The first is the Doctrine of Double effect is a deontic argument, which is directly contradictory with his framework of utilitarianism. This means that even if you're buying this argument, it is impossible for it to justify anything under his framework. The second thing is that it's impossible to accurately judge the intentions of a person without devolving into a form of "he said she said" bickering. I could say that I intended to save people, but there's no way to actually verify if that is what I intended, which makes the Doctrine of Double Effect unverifiable.

Before we get to his contention level arguments, I'd like to point out one little detail: without a framework to link into, his contention level arguments have no impact in the round. His contention level arguments, even if they are true, have to link into some sort of framework to prove anything in round. Since I'm refuting his framework of utilitarianism, they have nothing to link into. Thus, even if you don't buy my refutations on his contentions, they don't really matter in the round anyway.

Let's start with contention one. This is the easiest one to refute, as it is hingent upon his observations one and two being true. Since I've already refuted both of those observations, there's literally no warrant to this argument. No warrant means we can't be sure if it's true or not, and thus we can put it aside and ignore it.

His contention two talks about how targeted killing is a last resort to terrorism, but I'm trying to find an impact to this argument, and it's all in vain. There isn't an impact to this argument. He lists a bunch of things that terrorists try to do to prevent being killed, but he never justifies why this actually matters.

With contention two impact-less, let's look to contention three, which utilizies, in my opinion, one of the most ridiculous arguments in existence. My opponent seems to assume that because something is effective, it makes it morally permissible. I do not deny that targeted killing IS effective, but this doesn't make it morally permissible. While throwing all the people who appose you into shower stalls and spraying poisonous gas all Nazi-style is quite the effective way to establish dominance, it hardly makes it morally permissible. Unless my opponent wishes to argue events like the Holocaust being morally permissible, this argument is refuted.

With his entire case gone through, the round breaks down pretty simply. There's three levels to this debate:

1. The negative case. If I'm proving skepticism true, then you negate a priori to the rest of the debate.
2. The affirmative framework. If I'm disproving this, there's nothing for his contention level arguments to link to to prove targeted killing is morally permissible, thus making you negate.
3. The contention level arguments for my opponent's case. He must be winning sufficient offence and refuting my arguments against his to get sufficient offense to affirm. If he's not doing this, then you still negate, as he isn't proving anything.

If I'm winning off of any of these layers, then you negate. My opponent must be winning on all three in order to win the debate.

Thusly, I urge a con vote.

[1]Parfit, Derek (Philosophy Professor, Oxford University). Climbing the Mountain (Unpublished).



TheDiabolicDebater forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent's last refutation can be found here:

And I must regretfully inform my opponent that I lack the time to compete in this debate. I ask you give the win to my opponent.


Aww :(

Well, vote pro I suppose. Zaradi, you and I should debate again sometime.
Debate Round No. 3
No comments have been posted on this debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: FF
Vote Placed by Xerge 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Concession...