The United States has increasingly utilized drones in order to repress security threats in volatile regions around the world. While drones have been criticized for being unethical, they satisfy the demands of an American electorate displeased with measures requiring ‘boots-on-the-ground’. Moreover, drones allow the United States to act in an ad hoc manner in which they can surgically respond to the needs of globalized security concerns. As well as diminishing likelihood of American casualties, drones are advantageous as they mitigate concerns of sovereignty violations.
By D-Ray a contributing author to SHTFBlog
Despite these advantages, some observers contend drones exacerbate security problems more than they help. These critics continue to assert that drone strikes lend legitimacy to the propaganda efforts of terrorist groups. Although concerns regarding blowback are legitimate, alternatives to drone activities offer little promise.
Lack of Alternatives
American use of drones is restricted to highly dangerous regions in which the detention of terrorists is not viable. Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institute acknowledges this noting: “in war zones or unstable countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, arresting militants is highly dangerous and even if successful, often inefficient.” The alternative to detention then, is termination by drone strike. Audrey Cronin, a professor at George Mason University, states that the quick termination of targets prevents the US from obtaining “a storehouse of intelligence”. While this may be true, the ostensible costs of obtaining such intelligence seem to outweigh potential benefits. Moreover, there is no guarantee detainees will be compliant or even valuable to intelligence services. Detention and prosecution present issues in themselves. Prosecution and detention of captured terrorists is difficult. According to Byman it is “more politically palatable for the United States to kill rather than detain suspected terrorists”. This reasoning is callous and antithetical to due process but it seems to be the most pragmatic option for the US in compromised regions.
Also Read: Drones for Security
Ethical issues are at the forefront of discussion regarding drone kills. Intelligence is frequently too tenuous to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that targets are guilty. Methodology discrepancies on the calculation of civilian drone casualties paints two very different pictures. Critics of the United States suggest a significant number of civilians are killed in drone strikes. According to their generous understanding of what constitutes a combatant, the United States alleges civilian casualties are very few. In any event, it seems impossible to achieve an understanding of who was guilty and innocent after the fact. Methodological issues surrounding the calculation of civilian casualties should not mitigate the tragedy of unnecessary loss.
In consideration of associated civilian casualties with drone strikes, it must be asked if the regional benefits outweigh loss. Data shows that drone strikes have “driven down the overall level of violence in the areas they have hit”. Furthermore, drone activity has harmed the recruitment, training, and communication efforts of terrorists. Even critics of drone strikes seem to concede that they are at least efficacious in the short term.
Drone critics bring up a compelling argument against their use. They purport drone strikes lead to American unfavorability and lend legitimacy to the propaganda efforts of terrorist cells. Additionally, the “foolish secrecy of Washington’s drone program lets critics allege that the strikes are deadlier and less discriminating than they really are”. While terrorist groups pose a bigger threat to the citizens of affected regions, many people erroneously equivocate all unrest with the meddlesome activities of the United States. Audrey Cronin states the U.S. needs to “make sure that local insurgencies remain local”. By intervening with drone strikes, the United States is allowing terrorists to project their agenda into a global playing field. This is a very valid and legitimate concern. The problem is that terrorist propaganda efforts are already calibrated for global objectives. It seems unlikely that the discontinuation of drone strikes would cause terrorist groups to revise their agendas. Public opinion is relatively static. There seems to be no reason to believe terrorists are somehow more susceptible of policy shift than the general public.
Detractors of drone strikes have suggested terrorism is probably best curtailed by eliminating poverty and promoting education. The logic here is sound, the feasibility is not. Byman notes such efforts are “not politically or financially possible for the United States”. It would seem the United States is caught in a quagmire. Continuation of drone strikes legitimizes terrorist propaganda but a discontinuation offers no real promise of change. Further complicating this issue is the sensitive nature of Pakistan. As Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, it would not seem wise to discontinue drone strikes there and leave the government vulnerable to attack. Pakistani forces are more robust than terrorist groups but a discontinuation of drone strikes could change this paradigm.
Insofar as they mitigate sovereignty concerns, drone strikes are invaluable in pursuing peace in a globalized world. Drone strikes give the United States a broad scope in which they can pursue global security threats without the scrutiny of intergovernmental organizations. Ostensibly, this only heightens the potency of global conceptions of jihad. More realistically, this is a valuable tool in which the United States can support the efforts of struggling governments. Again, the discontinuation of drone policies does not guarantee terrorist organizations will shift their policy objectives to reflect US foreign policy.
Read More: Using Drones to Kill Americans
Due to the legitimate concerns that US drone strikes help build the narratives of terrorist groups, it would be wise of the State Department to exercise prudence in drone deployment. With that being said, drones are valuable tools in limiting regional violence and supporting weak governments. Policy alternatives to drones, while legitimate and noble, are not pragmatic. Change to the regions affected by drones will be slow and likely take decades. The State Department should continue to deploy drones and hope fledgling governments develop. It would seem drones are the best imperfect solution for an imperfect world.
D-Ray is a recent graduate of CU Boulder and currently enrolled in a law school on the East Coast. By day, he is a mild mannered content writer; by night, he banishes unruly drunks into the black purgatory of night as a bouncer. He is passionate about the Constitution and First Amendment Rights.