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Making Drone Violence Strategic: A Conceptual Genealogy of Remote Warfare

Archambault, Emil



This thesis studies the development of the contemporary employment of armed drones within a conceptual genealogy of aerial and remote warfare. While significant attention has been devoted either to the novelty of drone warfare, or to its political, legal, and ethical underpinnings, I situate the use of drones within a lineage of thinking about the strategic purpose of aerial and remote violence in the twentieth century. Through this process, I provide a nuanced account of how armed drones continue and change practices of aerial and remote warfare and situate their employment within broader practices of historical and contemporary warfare.
This thesis analyses three central moments in the development of concepts of remote warfare which contribute to the contemporary conceptual architecture of drone employment, namely the development of strategic bombing doctrines, planning for nuclear warfare during the Cold War, and practices of aerial warfare in the Vietnam War. Subsequently, I situate the employment of American armed drones in the counterinsurgency strategy employed from 2007 to 2011 in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the War on Terror more broadly. Throughout, I offer three principal contributions to scholarship on armed drones and remote warfare. First, I argue that the remoteness of armed drones is actively produced through a number of tactical, strategic, and political decisions and practices. Drawing on concepts of risk-transfer, vicarious, and surrogate warfare, I argue armed drones engage in warfare by manipulating and constructing remoteness. Second, I argue armed drones are part of a long legacy of contestations and marginalisations of concepts of war and that these contestations shape the employment of armed drones in contemporary warfare. Finally, I argue armed drones must be evaluated chiefly in their strategic contribution to contemporary warfare, and thereby reject the exceptionalisation of drone warfare as a fundamentally distinct practice of war.


Archambault, E. (2021). Making Drone Violence Strategic: A Conceptual Genealogy of Remote Warfare. (Thesis). University of Durham. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Mar 1, 2024
Keywords Armed drones; remote warfare; air power; strategic bombing; war on terror
Public URL
Publisher URL
Award Date Jan 7, 2022