Obsolete Exceptionalism: The Ethics and Legality of U.S. Targeted Killing

By: Hari Choudhari

April 28, 2022

Spring 2022 Student Symposium: Berkley Center Students

My project seeks to examine the U.S. government's stated justifications for its policy on targeted killing, revealing its lack of coherence within the frameworks of international law and multiple ethical perspectives. Combined with the stark contrast between American arguments and international consensus, this reveals a policy rooted largely in an exceptionalist mindset, exacerbating differences between the United States and the vulnerable populations of smaller nations. While sustainable in a hegemonic system, this exceptionalism provides a source of credibility for rising powers like China and Russia seeking to challenge the international order, ultimately proving detrimental to American foreign policy interests.


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Lynn E. Davis, Michael J. McNerney, and Michael D. Greenberg. Clarifying the Rules for Targeted Killing: An Analytical Framework for Policies Involving Long-Range Armed Drones. (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016).

Michelle Malette-Piasecki. “Missing the Target: Where the Geneva Conventions Fall Short in the Context of Targeted Killing”. Albany Law Review 76, no. 1 (2012).

Michael J. Mazarr et al. “Chapter Four: U.S. Approach to the International Order.” In Understanding the Current International Order. (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016).

Rita Siemion. “Presidential Policy Guidance: Procedures for Approving Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets Located Outside The United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.International Legal Materials 56, no. 6 (2017): 1209–25. doi:10.1017/ilm.2017.42.

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