Sunday, April 7, 2013

Drones: Scope and Scale


The increasing dependence of the US counterterrorism strategy on the use of drones as a means of modern warfare has led to an emergence of many conventional debates around the issue of targeted killings and airstrikes conducted in other sovereign states. For the purpose of this discussion, I will analyze the use of Predator drones, in particular, as a fairly new technique of warfare, giving rise to many questions regarding the future of drones and whether they are here to stay. To discuss the scope and scale of drones as a method of modern warfare, I will highlight what I think the important debates surrounding the issue are; is the use of drones a problem in the post 9/11 world or is it an effective means of counterterrorism? Is the US in fact setting a precedent for the future use of drones?

The Obama administration has increased the number of drone strikes more than 5 times than the previous Bush Administration. After more than a decade at war since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US relies increasingly on drones to kill ‘enemy combatants’ away from the battlefield in countries it is not formally at war with. According to the New America Foundation, looking at drone strikes in just Pakistan, the number has increased from 52 during the Bush Administration to 298 airstrikes under the Obama Administration till 2012. (For more information visit the link: http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/07/politics/drones-cnn-explains ). Counterterrorism efforts in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, have depended heavily on targeted killings through airstrikes conducted by the US. After these three major focuses, the list spreads out to Somalia, Libya and even Mali in the next few years. (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2012/10/drones_attacks_in_libya_an_unprecedented_expansion_of_presidential_power.html). 

These drone strikes, even though targeted precisely at terrorists and militants belonging to organizations such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, often lead to high collateral damage in the form of civilian lives. Many innocent men, women and children are injured or killed. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the 363 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have killed around 2,634 to 3,468 people out of which 473 to 893 were non-militant civilians. In Yemen, with around 100 drone strikes conducted by the US, the number of civilian deaths ranges from 72 to 178 from a total of between 374 and 1,112 people killed. Highlighting the significant number of innocent lives lost, a study by Stanford and NYU suggests that these airstrikes are ‘largely ineffective’ and kill and traumatize more innocent people than the US acknowledges (http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/07/politics/drones-cnn-explains).

Moving into the analysis of how broad the issue of drones and its spread is, it can be argued that even though at the present time the use of drones is highly monopolized by the US, it may set a precedent for other countries to develop their drone programs as well. The US, Israel and Britain currently have the upper hand on the global market of drones, however, China’s research in the field of drones is becoming increasingly ‘worrisome and alarming’. Scott Shane in an article believes that this globalization of warfare led by the US is setting an ‘international norm’.

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.” – Scott Shane.  (http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/growth-in-chinas-drone-program-called-alarming/)

            To further analyze the predicted future of drones, our group thought it was essential to categorize the debate into three broad categories; the human rights debate, the legality debate and the debate regarding tactics of Western war.  
  
            The human rights debate around drones regards the issue of collateral damage and the injury and death of civilians. Drone strikes are said to have destroyed entire families like that of Gul Nawaz, who lost eleven members of his family in a single airstrike in North Waziristan, including his two daughters, two sons and wife ( http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=9d86301f-6bb0-4387-9ddc-f8b58655e859%40sessionmgr4&vid=4&hid=10). This sparks an important debate on whether or not such a means of counterterrorism is worth the lives lost and whether America, through such tactics, may in fact create more enemies than kill. It also highlights the debate of whether Non-US citizens have fewer rights than US citizens and whether such collateral damage can be seen as a war crime difficult to justify ethically.  
            The legal debate, discussed in much further detail by James in his post, indicates the important discussions around whether or not the use of drones can be justified under domestic and International law. Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the US “to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security”. (http://www.cfr.org/counterterrorism/targeted-killings/p9627?cid=otr-partner_site-pbs_newshour) It approves the use of drones as an inherent right to self-defense the US has in order to retaliate to the 9/11 attacks on its people. Domestic law, under the Bush administration also approved the use of drones, as an agreement to all required measures to be taken for self defense and to ensure national security by eradicating terrorism and decentralizing the Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Haqqani network (http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan/frederick-kagan-house-testimony-the-threat-to-the-us-homeland-emanating-from-pakistan-may-3-2011). This leads to several legal controversies regarding executive power and the political legitimacy of drone warfare.
Lastly, the third category is the Western war debate which surrounds the concept of ‘casualty aversion’. This refers to the US strategy of minimizing the risk of retaliation from the enemy and therefore completely reducing the risk of American casualties. It creates a huge disparity between the two players of the game, the ‘firer’ and the ‘target’. The use of unmanned vehicles as US combatants damages the capability of the enemy to wage war and leaves absolutely no risk of direct retaliation from the terrorists. Drones are also able to perform the combat tasks better than humans, due to the ability of effective maneuvering and performing surveillance duties for much longer hours. This leads to the practicality vs. legality debate that may arise from the use of drones in foreign territories.
“The ever-increasing use of drones in the pursuit of the ‘war on terror’ has given rise to concerns over the emergence of a global battlefield whereby the entire planet is subject to the application of the laws of armed conflict.” – Noam Lubell 

22 comments:

  1. Caput Lupinum from the Latin meaning a wolfs head the full phrase Caput Gerat Lupinum literally means let his be a wolfs head. This phrase is actually a legal context in which one who indisrcimitly violates the law places himself. What is a terrorist if not a wolf, a mad beast that can not contribute to civilize society and must be hunted and put down before he can cause further harm. Through his actions after all the terrorist has demonstrated he can no longer be considered a soilder nor even a unlawful civilian and has thus forfeited his rights of due process. Under this definition isn't a drone strike fully justified as a Ad protegendum omne hominum genus a protection of all mankind. While civilian causalities are tragic the fault lies not with the Drone operator but the terrorist who chose to use civilians as human shields. It can further be argued that we must abandon any homage to the Geneva convention and the Articles of war as they are a product of state to state conflict and while they mush be followed rigorously when that occurs but on the issue of terrorist civilized society is locked in a struggle more reminiscent of a darker chapter of our history when only the law that governed warfare was the law of cain. Thus I would concluded that on the issue of drones we should be looking for ways to stream line restrictions and speed up the process of strikes. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

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    1. Jeff, I appreciate the enthusiasm in your comment; you bring up a very interesting perspective. I, however, disagree. I think whether or not the US should be increasing the number of targeted killings in another sovereign state depends on a well thought of cost-benefit analysis of the procedure, including the long term consequences of our actions, which in my view are the most important. You acknowledged the civilian deaths as a product of collateral damage; many homes, bazaars and worship places are completely destroyed in US airstrikes. This, like what was brought up in the Q/A session in class, increases the chances for recruitment of terrorist organizations. The people that are affected are already living in failed states where they channel their anger and frustration directly at the US. There is a significant increase in the anti-American sentiment across the region where the US is intervening via UAVs as a militaristic strategy; even in a country like Pakistan which was previously acknowledged as a non-NATO ally of the US.
      There is indeed a necessity to deal with the highly important issue of terrorists and to speed up counterterrorism efforts across the issue-areas; however, in my view drones might not be the best way for all cases. It should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, where the importance or ranking of a terrorist would decide what method needs to be used and what consequences it would lead to – that is what, in my view, should decide the future of the drone program. Using drones as a means of targeted killings as a ‘go-to’ tactic of dealing with the problem may not be the best solution.
      Robert Grenier, a former head of the CIA's counter-terrorism center (2004-2006), said “We have been seduced by them (the drones) and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences." (To read more, visit the link http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/05/al-qaida-drone-attacks-too-broad).

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  2. Why would we want to protest other nations from using drones? I'd think we'd encourage it as nations such as Russia and China are less adherent to HR regimes thus able to target terrorist more freely after all an enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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    1. Since you already mentioned they have weaker HR regulations, they also have weaker HR probing bodies, introducing the risk of what you may call ‘drone havoc’. The targets of the countries which are developing drone programs are unknown and depend on their particular self-interests and may lead to other countries suffering from its collateral damage directly or indirectly.

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  3. You mentioned briefly about drones being used for surveillance by the U.S. and Vietnam and it got me to thinking about an issue that wasn't mentioned in the presentation, which is the surveillance of citizens in the U.S. by government agencies. This topic has recently been talked about in Congress and it has been argued that there would be a lot of jobs created if drones were used to conduct surveillance in the U.S. Do you think that this is a good idea? Or could it possibly violate the fourth Amendment?
    Here's a link to an article I found, giving further explanation of the issue:http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/03/20/senate-weighs-benefits-privacy-concerns-of-domestic-drones

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    1. Ryan, thank you for posting such an interesting article. I think, like the article mentions, the creation of jobs may be the upside to using drones as a means of surveillance within the US. However, the downside is the increasing concern of privacy and where we can draw the line between using something convenient and cost efficient and protecting basic human rights. As for the violation of the 4th amendment, I agree with James answer in his blog regarding the US policy of drones, where he focuses on the importance of having a warrant for surveillance purposes. If a warrant is issued, it is not a violation; however, it will definitely be a legal concern in the absence of one.

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  4. What is the uniqueness of drones relative to other weapons systems? Would the discussion over the policies be the same if conventional aircraft or cruise missiles were being used?

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    1. The uniqueness of drones, when compared to other conventional means of warfare, is the fact that drones are more precise in targeting the terrorist. According to the article, ‘In Defense of Drones’, we see statistics regarding the comparative ‘effectiveness’ of drones in killing fewer civilians as compared to other military weapons. These are considered a less obtrusive and more precise means of getting the job done. They also completely reduce direct risks to Americans since the vehicles are completely unmanned and operated from miles away from the battlefield. Drones, especially the MQ-1 Predator Drone, are products of vast technological advancements and are capable of remaining airborne and tracking a target for more than 24 hours and are more preferable for the ‘dull, dangerous and destructive’ work needed to be performed during military operations. Arguable, these can perform the tasks better than humans piloting conventional aircrafts, due to the ability of effectively maneuvering the mountainous terrains of the areas or performing surveillance duties for longer hours.
      After outlining what, in my view, make drones different than other conventional means of conducting airstrikes, I think the moral, legal and western-war debate arguments around drones depend on your particular perspective. It can be argued that since drones are more precise and kill fewer innocent civilians, it is ‘morally’ a better option. Or it can be argued that regardless of what the number is, the loss of innocent lives is unacceptable unless the use of drones is the last resort. On the other hand, the legal debate would relate to particular laws of war and whether bombing areas such as Waziristan through conventional airstrikes, without openly waging war with Pakistan, would even be possible. So, I think, knowing the differences between drones and other means of warfare it’s really up to you to decide what your stance in these particular debates is. Would you agree with William Saletan’s argument in ‘In the Defense of Drones’ that drones are in fact more preferable than previously used ‘crude weapons’?

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    2. Not really; not in the sense that I disagree drones aren't precise, but under the assumption that drones are inherently more accurate than other weapons systems. Nothing used MQ-1 or its successor the MQ-9 can't be equipped to conventional aircraft, and if anything the current generation of aircraft are much more flexible and capable (with the sole exception being endurance). The sole reason drones were equipped with the Hellfire (originally an anti-tank missile for helicopters) was because it was the heaviest thing the MQ-1 could carry while remaining airborne; precision wasn't exactly the first prerogative it was just a nice bonus that became convenient down the line. The JDAM was already seen as the "go-to" precision weapon. Besides, efforts are being made to uparm drones with the so-called "crude" weapons (the MQ-9 can be equipped with 500lb JDAMs) from the previous generation, sacrificing "precision" for larger and more powerful munitions (allowing the drone to take out small buildings and large groups of people). The trend in drones would therefore be away from the norm of "precision" and towards more conventional combatant roles.

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  5. In the "Defence of Drones" article posted on blackboard the author cites numerous statistics demonstrating that drones strikes conducted by the U.S. cause much less collateral damage and civilian deaths than other forms of warfare such as bombing. Considering this it seems as though drones are relatively humane compared to alternative methods of destruction. Does this invalidate the human rights agrument? Or are there other factors at play that make drone strikes particularly in violation of human rights norms? Thank you.

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    1. Thanks for your question, Seejay. I think, even though drones cause comparatively less collateral damage than other conventional means of warfare, the human rights argument springs out of the fact that drones are used much more frequently than before, even for cases where other options are not considered and targeted killing is not used as the last option. Even for low-ranked terrorist suspects, civilian lives are lost as collateral damage. Another important argument is that the US should acknowledge the deaths the strikes are causing through its strategies. According to John Brennan, a senior counterterrorism advisor,“the rule should be that if we’re going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that.”

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  6. As you mentioned in class and on the blog, the human rights debate is one that is prevalent in the morality of drones discussion. You write that the human rights debate awards fewer rights to Non-US citizens than US citizens. I understand that the use of the drones on Non-US citizens (ie. civilians) take away lives, destroy livelihoods, and homes. But can you explain what you mean by US citzens human rights being protected by drone attacks?

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    1. When making the comparison between the rights of US citizens and non-US citizens in the blog, I meant that the American use of drones has brought up a controversial debate regarding whether non-US citizens are perceived as having fewer rights than US-citizens. These can be ranging from the right to a fair trial to be proven innocent or guilty or even the value of life in general. US drone strikes have killed hundreds of non-US citizens, many of which remain unacknowledged, however, the killing of a US citizen Anwar-al-Awlaki, sparked many controversial legal debates of whether or not this could be justified.

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  7. You mentioned Israel and Britain currently have part of the market on drones, could you expand on this please? Have there been instances where Israel and Britain have used drones? Has the U.S. been helping them develop drones? Do you see any strategic advantage to our allies possessing drones, or just more of a legal quagmire?

    Even if we as a nation were to stop using drones altogether, do you think that China would give up on trying to develop drones? Or do you see a certain kind of MAD situation arise where every country that has them won't use them against each other?

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    1. Britain only recently acquired American MQ-9 Reapers and have yet to deploy them. The Israeli drones have been used for battlefield surveillance but are unarmed.

      Drones are the future, but they're not like nuclear weapons where can just insidiously wipe each other off the map. Much like the tank or first biplanes, drones have a shock value, but they eventually find their place in combat arms as inherent vulnerabilities are discovered and weighed against the strengths and weaknesses of other weapons and integrated into a doctrine that reflects that.

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    2. Thank you for the question, Julia. To start off, here’s a list of all the countries that have large military drones in service (http://dronewarsuk.wordpress.com/6-who-has-drones-2/); keeping in mind that these are many different kinds of drones and all countries do not possess the technology the US uses for targeted killings. This list gives an idea of the different types of drones possessed and where exactly they are manufactured. You will see that the major manufacturers are the US and Israel. Britain also manufactures the specific kind of ‘Watchkeeper’ drone.
      As for whether or not other countries have already used drones; UK has used combat and surveillance drones in Afghanistan, while Israel has performed drone strikes in Palestine. In January, a United Nations official began an investigation into the use of drones in targeted killing, the first formal international probe of U.S., British and Israeli counterterrorism programs that have killed hundreds of suspected terrorists.
      For the second part of your question, from the perspective of the US, it may be beneficial if allies have drones. However, what is actually happening is that a precedent is being set for all other countries to develop their drone programs to serve their particular national security goals as well - just like you mentioned China’s example. I think it would be hard to say whether or not China would stop developing their drone program since it the process can be kept so secretive and covert. However, what I do think is important, is setting an international standard for the use of drones which all countries, including the US, would have to abide by. This would ensure that regardless of who has drones, there will be a particular code of conduct around its usage.

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  8. The United States, and in fact the world, is constantly trying to improve technology, particularly military technology. There has rarely been an instance where we as a country completely abandon a new form of technology, particularly if it means it could save American lives (in the case of drones it saves the lives of pilots and soldiers).
    Even with nuclear weapons where we no longer use them, we still have them in abundance and continue to maintain our stockpiles.
    All that said, do you think that even with the legal and ethical problems drone warfare raises that America will give up on drones entirely? Or instead just push forward with the program and try to improve technology and strategy even more so that civilian casualties can be minimized?

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    1. The legal and ethical problems aren't really in the calculus for the military side of the program. Most of the really controversial use of drones is outside the armed services (CIA; DHS use). The armed services have used them for close air support, interdiction, and reconnaissance missions; all totally normal aerial warfare missions. For this reason, the Armed Services are dramatically expanding their use of drones and are projecting that the drone fleet will grow 50% larger than its current size by Fiscal Year 2022.

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    2. Julia, I personally think the US will not give up drone technology because it does get “the job done” and minimizes direct retaliation immensely; it’s a very convenient option. However, it’s important to acknowledge the long term effects this could have. What’s important is to minimize the loss of innocent civilians in the process, like you said. If there is further technological advancement that can eliminate collateral damage immensely than what the current scenario is and if drone strikes are far more precise and are used only when it’s the last option, the debate around drones will change significantly. Alongside, there also a need for an international standard to use such means of warfare. Drones cannot violate sovereignty and enter foreign land without the permission of the state because it leads to a whole different legal debate. If an internationally acceptable “code of conduct” is established with the use of drones, I think we can benefit from the drone program, certain alterations being made.

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  9. Micah Zenko, one of the experts from the CFR's round-table assigned for class, wrote in his piece on reforming U.S. drone policy that UAV's would provide "little additional attack capability" to non-state actors like Hezbollah. However we have recently read a multitude of sources advocating the unique and significant capabilities that drones bring to warfare for the United States and other traditional major players. In light of the fact that Hezbollah is reportedly in possession of at least one armed drone already, should we be concerned about the proliferation of this tecnhology to non-state actors? If not, what causes such a vast difference in tactical utility?

    The link for Zenko's report: http://www.cfr.org/wars-and-warfare/reforming-us-drone-strike-policies/p29736?co=C009601

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    1. Allan, thank you for your question. You put light on a very important concern regarding the debate of drones. Like you mentioned, a huge concern is the possibility of either drones being hijacked or even the possibility of non-state terrorist groups owning their own drones. Eric Schmidt, the head of google, mentioned in one of his talks that the possibility of this technology getting into the hands of terrorists poses a huge global security concern across the world. So yes, I completely agree that this is definitely a major risk involved in the process.

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