Spotlighting Drone Warfare
This week, a number of articles on drone warfare have appeared. It’s a topic that is not discussed nearly as much as it should be. Here’s a brief round-up of links to pieces on the subject, along with key quotes.
Writing for Foreign Affairs, Princeton Ph.D. candidate Omar S. Bashir has argued drone warfare needs far more accountability:
Concerns abound about the secretive nature of U.S. drone programs. Even among those who support the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in counterterrorism efforts, there are frequent calls for more transparency, greater accountability, and better oversight. Seldom, though, have commentators distinguished between these seemingly interchangeable words or described what any of them would look like in practice. In fact, increasing transparency is not the only path to accountability. The United States should instead aim for better oversight, modeling a review process on the United Kingdom’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Doing so would be consistent with democratic ideals as well as with U.S. foreign policy objectives.
In The New Republic, James Joyner discussed the report titled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan.” Joyner summarizes some of the report’s findings about the unintended effects of drone strikes (known as blowback):
The report authors note that “evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.” They cite a May New York Times report asserting that “drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants” … The report also cites a June 2012 Middle East Policy Council report which “identified a correlation between drone strikes and terrorist attacks in the years 2004-2009” and found it “probable that drone strikes provide motivation for retaliation, and that there is a substantive relationship between the increasing number of drone strikes and the increasing number of retaliation attacks.”
The New York Times addressed drone warfare in its “Room for Debate” on Tuesday. Some, such as Georgetown University professor C. Christine Fair, support (at least tacitly) the continued use of drones, for lack of a better option: “Drones may not be desirable but they are the best option at least in the tribal areas.”
Others in the debate, like journalist James Jeffrey, find the negative consequences of drone warfare outweigh the positive outcomes:
America needs to readdress its approach to national security. Innocent people are dying as a result of a self-interested point of view that’s simply not working, undermining the very thing it’s trying to achieve. Each al Qaeda leader taken out will be replaced, but you can’t replace the loss of sympathetic public opinion or reputation, which in turn spurs on those who would harm America, enabling them to recruit and sustain themselves.
The current focus on the widespread protests, reportedly against the video mocking the Prophet Mohammed, is likely to dominate public attention in the coming weeks, especially with the allegations that the Obama administration knew about the attacks prior to their taking place. While this issue is important, drone warfare is, in my opinion, the (biggest) elephant in the room as far as foreign policy goes, and it’s important Americans not neglect this major issue.
Also see Not Fit for Dinner: Drone Warfare and the “Playstation” Killing Mentality.