Ethics of Tomahawk Missile Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

ethics of Tomahawk missile use. The writer explains what tomahawk missiles are and how they work. The writer than discusses the cost of those missiles and the ethics of using them in attacks against enemies. There were eight sources used to complete this paper.

As tensions mount between the United States and the Middle East, it appears that there will be a war. Using force to make nations comply is something that has been going on since the beginning of time. Sometimes it is done to bully a nation into giving up its rightful land, while at other times it is done for the protection of groups of people as well as the standard of freedom for mankind around the world. Regardless of the reason wars and attacks are experienced there have been increasingly advanced weapons involved in those movements. Technology in recent years has allowed the advancement of many things including weapons development. One of the most controversial weapons to date has been the Tomahawk Missile. The Tomahawk Missile has been used in several instances during recent years and the ethics of its use continues to spark heated debates on many different levels.

Tomahawk Missiles gained their most recent notoriety when more than 200 of them were shot in Serbia and Kosovo several years ago (Margasak, 1999). Their use has become controversial with lawmakers wanting to buy more of the old styles and some service personnel not wanting to use them again because the new more advanced models are due out this year. The Tomahawks of this new era cost more than half a million dollars each which is much less than the $1.5 million that the former styled Tomahawks cost (Margasak, 1999).

One of the most advanced things about the missiles in question is the fact that they can be launched from a computer. Years ago when two nations went to war the launching of weapons was done by hand, which meant that there were many discussions about their use because of the unavoidable casualties that would occur (Knickmeyer, 1999). The Tommy hawk can be launched with the click of a mouse on a computer. This provides the foundation for an ethical dilemma. The missiles have the potential to kill thousands of people, who are both service personnel members and innocent victims. The click of a mouse for the missiles to be launched takes away the need to debate the use because of the casualties that the sender incurs. When the computer generated missile is launched that decision does not risk any of the home troops. Because this risk is removed with Tomahawk missiles the potential is there to overuse the missiles and not take into account the many people who will be killed on the other end. It allows for an almost bully attitude because someone can sit at a desk, thousands of miles away, and click a mouse to launch a tomahawk missile and cause many deaths.


For one to fully grasp the important ethical debate regarding the use of Tomahawk missiles one must have an understanding of what they are and how they work. A Tomahawk missile is described as a long ranged, cruise missile for subsonic use. It is used for the purpose of warfare during land attacks (Tomahawk® Cruise Missile (Updated: 17 December 2002).

Tomahawk® cruise missiles are designed to fly at extremely low altitudes at high subsonic speeds, and are piloted over an evasive route by several mission tailored guidance systems. The first operational use was in Operation Desert Storm, 1991, with immense success. The missile has since been used successfully in several other conflicts. In 1995 the governments of the United States and United Kingdom signed a Foreign Military Sales Agreement for the acquisition of 65 missiles, marking the first sale of Tomahawk® to a foreign country. After a November 1998 launch and live warhead test, the U.K. declared operational capability (Tomahawk® Cruise Missile (Updated: 17 December 2002)."

One of the things that call the question of ethics is the fact that the missile can avoid radar detection. While some have the belief all is fair in love and war, there are boundaries that human decency must follow and sometimes being able to level the playing field gives each side equal footing thereby creating a sense of equal ness and possible negotiations. The tomahawk missile removes the equal footing in many instances and that creates an unbalanced nature between the nations which removes the ability to negotiate. The nation with the Tomahawk missiles becomes the strong force and the nation being attacked with the missiles sees the attacker as an unfair bully and the tensions mounts. While war is fought to win, there have been rules that are agreed to on both sides for many years. The use of Tomahawk missiles is believed by some to cross the lines of human decency because of its ability to destroy so many lives from a mouse click far away.

Tomahawk cruise missiles frequently appear in the news because they are the U.S. weapon of choice for a variety of quick-strike operations. A cruise missile is basically a small, pilot-less airplane. Cruise missiles have an 8.5-foot (2.61 meter) wingspan, are powered by turbofan engines and can fly 500 to 1,000 miles depending on the configuration. A cruise missile's job in life is to deliver a 1,000 pound (450 kg) high-explosive bomb to a precise location - the target. The hallmark of a cruise missile is its incredible accuracy. A common analogy used when talking about cruise missiles is, "the missile can fly 1,000 miles and hit a target the size of a single-car garage (How Cruise Missiles Work by Marshall Brain)!"

It is common knowledge that a few attacks by these missiles on Iraq and Saddam would be forced to comply (Would, 1998). This might be viewed as a good thing by some but for others it raises the ethical question as well. Much like a bully on a playground it creates a one sided negotiation when cruise missiles become involved.

During the Gulf War the use of the missiles showed Iraq and the world the absolute military power that the United States had over the nation of Iraq (Cockburn, 1996). At first glance this is a positive ability and something that should be proudly flexed, but upon closer inspection the weighted situation lends itself to many ethical issues. While America prides itself on being fair and just the allowed use of cruise missiles has the potential to fall into the wrong hands. Imagine what would happen if Saddam had cruise missiles at his disposal the next time he decided to attack a smaller nearby nation. The cruise missiles in the wrong hands can spell worldwide disaster. Because of the potential to fall into the wrong hands it is important to consider the ethical question of the missile use. For one nation to be able to build and use these deadly missiles the world has seen he damaging affects that can be attained. The debate now centers on what happens when these missiles are not reigned in by some agreement of war and the missile is something that Saddam someday possesses. It is important to think about the future as well as the immediate goal in the war on terrorism. It is not ethical for America to use them and expect that Sadam will not. It is also an ethical dilemma to demand that Iraq disarm, and give up the ability to attack with mass destruction, while this nation uses tomahawk missiles to accomplish this goal.

Another aspect of the ethical question is the cost of constructing the cruise missiles (Weiner, 1996). The cost can be prohibitive to provide the number that would be needed once the…

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