Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are remotely controlled aircrafts. They are often armed with missiles or bombs to attack the enemy. From the time of the World Trade Center attacks, the United States has used countless numbers of drones to kill suspected terrorists in countries throughout the world.
Proponents of drone use hold that drones have been critical in destroying terrorist networks, and that the collateral civilian casualties have been minimal. They argue that drones are an inexpensive way to prevent the need for ground troops, and that this form of combat can help keep America safe.
Opponents hold that the use of drones actually stimulates terrorist activity. They argue that drone use does kill large numbers of civilians and that it makes violence appear innocuous.
The following is a set of arguments and rebuttals that address the use of drones to take out enemy combatants.
All the Yes points:
- Drone Strikes Make the United States Safer by Destroying Terrorist Networks Internationally.
- Drones Result in Fewer Civilian Fatalities than Other Weapons.
- Drones Keep US Military Personnel Safer
- Drone Use is Cheaper than Engaging in Ground or Manned Aerial Combat
- Drone Strikes Are Legal under International Law
- Drone Strikes Are Legal under US Law
- Drones Limit the Scope and Scale of Military Action.
- Drone strikes Are Subject to a Tight Review Process and Congressional Oversight.
- Drone Strikes Are Carried Out with the support of Local Governments and Make Those Countries Safer.
- The US cannot Risk Lagging Behind the Rest of the World in the Development of These Technologies.
- Drone Operators Have a Lower Risk for PTSD than Other Military Personnel.
- The Majority of Americans Support Drone Strikes
Drone Strikes Make the United States Safer by Destroying Terrorist Networks Internationally.
ProCon.org states that drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia have killed more than 3,500 militants. These include many important commanders who have been suspected of organizing plots against the United States. When President Obama was in office, he said that many highly skilled Al Qaeda fighters have been eliminated through the use of drones. Plots against the United States have been disrupted that could have killed many people.
Drone Strikes Create more Terrorists than They Kill.
People who experience the loss of a loved one by a drone become incensed against the United States and become motivated to join actions against the United States. According to author Jeremy Scahill, the great majority of fighters operating out of Yemen currently are people who want to avenge the destruction of their homes. The number of Al Qaeda core members in the Arabian Peninsula more than doubled between 2009 to 2012. This resulted in a greater number of terrorist attacks in the area. This seems to correspond with the use of drones in the region. Also, the “Underwear Bomber” and the “Times Square Bomber” cited drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia as the drive behind their plots.
Drones Result in Fewer Civilian Fatalities than Other Weapons.
Traditional weapons cause more collateral damage than drones do to people and property. This is because the accuracy and precision of drone strikes limits casualties to intended targets. ProCon.org states that 174 to 1,047 civilians have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since the United States has been conducting drone strikes abroad.
Drone Strikes Target People who May not Be Terrorists.
The government’s policy of “signature strikes” permits the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command to target people who fit a specific terrorist profile. This is the case even if they have not been identified conclusively as an enemy combatant. Classified documents that were leaked in 2015 showed that, in one period of drone strikes in Afghanistan, as many as 90 percent of the casualties were not the intended targets.
Drones Keep US Military Personnel Safer
Drones are launched from bases in allied countries. They are operated remotely by personnel in the United States. This reduces the risk of injury and death that results from using ground troops and pilots. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their affiliates usually operate in rough terrain. In these places, it is very dangerous for the United States to employ teams of special forces to locate and capture terrorists. Drones eliminate the risks that are associated with all “boots on the ground” deployments.
Drones Kill Many Civilians and Disturb Local Populations While drones definitely keep US forces safer, at the same time, they terrorize civilian populations. According to ProCon.org, it is estimated that between 174 and 1,047 civilians have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Apparently, people who live in areas where the drones are active experience a lot of distress from possible drone attacks. In those regions, the children are too afraid to go to school, and the adults are too stressed to lead normal existences. Local leaders actually consider the drone presence to be a form of terrorism.
Drone Use is Cheaper than Engaging in Ground or Manned Aerial Combat
There is around 5 billion dollars that is allocated for drones in the defense budget. This is only about one percent of the whole military budget. By comparison, the military’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by itself costs the United States 9.7 billion dollars a year. US manned military attack aircraft cost up to 42 times more than drones to operate. Al Qaeda spent around half a million dollars to carry out the September 11th attacks. The US spent around 2.2 trillion dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq and on homeland security in response. The disparity is enormous.
Despite the fact that drones are a cheap source of attack ability, they kill very few high-value targets. Reuters reported that of the 500 militants that the CIA believed it had killed with drones between 2008 and 2010, only 14 were “top-tier militant targets,” and 25 were “mid-to-high-level organizers.”
Drone Strikes Are Legal under International Law
Article 51 of the UN Charter permits a country to defend itself when it is attacked. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions has stated that Article 51 pertains if the targeted country agrees to the use of force in its territory. This is also the case if the country is unable to control the threat themselves. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia have agreed to US drone strikes within their borders because they are under threat from terrorist groups. Apparently, a country that is under a threat does not need to provide targets with legal processing before using lethal force. The United States also has the right under international law to “anticipatory self-defense.” This gives it the right to use force against a real and imminent threat.
Drone Strikes Violate International Law.
According to international humanitarian law, a targeted individual must be directly participating in hostilities with the United States. Under international human rights law, a targeted individual must be an imminent threat that only lethal force can halt. If it is merely the case that an entity is suspected of a connection to a “militant” organization, that is not enough of a reason to use lethal force against them. Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” This applies even in times of armed conflict.
Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force by one state against the other, with a few exceptions. These are 1) the consent of the host state, and 2) when the use of force is in self-defense from an armed attack or imminent threat. Therefore, members of militant groups who are not in armed conflict with the United States are not permissible targets. Amnesty International has declared drone strikes as being classified as war crimes.
Drone Strikes Are Legal under US Law
Article 2 of the US Constitution permits the use of force against an imminent threat without congressional approval. Also, in 2001, Congress passed an authorization for the use of military force against Al Qaeda indefinitely. This authorization permits the use of force against any entity that was any way involved with the September 11th attacks. This authorization has no geographic boundary restrictions.
Drone Strikes Are Carried Out in a Secretive Way. They Lack Oversight. Drones are implemented in situations where war is not openly authorized by Congress. This lets the executive branch have control over secret wars across the world. The CIA can carry out these attacks without any information being divulged by the government. This is because they are covert operations. The CIA does not give out any information currently about its drone programs.
Drones Limit the Scope and Scale of Military Action.
Since the time of the September 11th attacks, the main threats to the United States are terrorist networks that function in various countries around the world. The US has not been fighting major countries. To invade a country with troops to control small terrorist groups would be very expensive for the United States. Also, the United States might become responsible for destabilizing the governments of other countries. In fact, the attempt of the United States to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan by invading the country has resulted in a war that has dragged on for a long time. Using drones to control terrorist groups allows the United States to achieve its goals in a cheaper way. It also costs less manpower and lives.
Drone Strikes Violate the Sovereignty of Other Countries
Drone strikes are many times carried out against the wishes of the target countries. Pakistan is one country that has been very vocal about this. The United Nations has called US drone strikes a violation of sovereignty. It has asked for investigations into the legality of the strikes. Apparently, only six out of about 40 countries approve of the US drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Drone strikes Are Subject to a Tight Review Process and Congressional Oversight.
President Obama, in 2013, set up five conditions that must be met before lethal action can be used on a foreign target: 1) We must be almost certain that the terrorist target is present, 2) We must almost be certain that non-combatants will not be injured or killed, 3) Capture must be an alternative that can’t be carried out, 4) The country where the problem exists will not take care of the problem itself, 5) No other reasonable alternatives exist to control the problem. Intelligence committees and members of congress are informed of every attack that America carries out. A long time before Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, the Obama administration passed on information for analysis to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice analyzed the information to make sure that the action was consistent with US laws.
Drone Strikes Allow the US to Become Emotionally Distanced from the Impact of War.
When military personnel don’t deal directly with the enemy, there is always the danger that they will dehumanize the enemy. They will merely see them as blips on a screen. As a result, there will be less of a deterrent to war.
Drone Strikes Are Carried Out with the support of Local Governments and Make Those Countries Safer.
US drone attacks assist countries in handling their terrorist threats. This includes Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab. The president of Yemen has openly praised the use of drones within his borders. In Pakistan, where the majority of drone attacks are carried out, these attacks have reduced violence. The number of suicide attacks in Pakistan has decreased over time.
US Drone Strikes Provide Cover to Other Countries to Participate in Human Rights Abuses.
The use of drones by the US in other countries makes it hard to demand that those countries will control their own drone use. China could end up justifying drone attacks against Tibetan separatists, and Russia could justify attacks on rebels in Chechnya.
The US cannot Risk Lagging Behind the Rest of the World in the Development of These Technologies.
More than 87 countries currently have some kind of surveillance or attack drone. China and Iran are two countries that have unveiled such programs. Insurgent groups are also moving quickly to acquire the technology. Libyan opposition forces used drones and Hezbollah claims that it has used drones as well.
Drone Operators Have a Lower Risk for PTSD than Other Military Personnel.
Drone pilots suffer less trauma than military personnel who must be present on the battlefield. They can actually lead a normal civilian life here in the United States. They also do not risk death or serious injury.
Many Drone Pilots Suffer Emotional ans Psychological Stress
A study conducted by the US Air Force’s School of Aerospace Medicine determined that drone pilots face some unique kinds of problems. These include a lack of clear separation between combat and personal life. According to one study, approximately 8.2 percent of the pilots studied reported at least one problematic mental health outcome.
The Majority of Americans Support Drone Strikes
According to a 2013 survey by Pew Research, 61 percent of Americans support drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The support was spread across all political parties.