9 Costs to Drone Warfare

This article presents several reasons (9, in fact) as to why US drone strikes are bad. Most of them are pretty convincing, so I’ll go ahead and unpack them–


The first argument presented is that drones only address proximate causes and don’t address the root cause of instability– the mindset of terrorists. The article indicates that diplomacy is far more effective and a better strategy to addressing the problems that drone strikes are meant to solve. I agree that drone strikes only address proximate causes, but I think the author mistakes another proximate cause, the mindset of terrorists, for a root cause. The real question is what drives the mindset, and how do we change it? There is a root cause to the mindsets, and it’s important for us to figure out how to prevent that mindset from continuing to be recreated.


The second argument presented is blowback terrorism, or the idea that drone strikes fuel people to join militant organizations. This couples well with the previous argument, as drone strikes are now only preventing proximate causes of militant attacks and causing more militants to be created (drones have become a proximate cause of terrorism themselves). While drones are incredibly effective at killing militants, they certainly create blowback terrorism. Several well-known terrorist attacks, including the New York Times Square Bomber Faizal Shahzad, were explicitly committed because of United States’ drone policies.


The third argument is that drone strikes cause a humanitarian crisis, causing Pakistanis to flee regions where strikes are occurring. This is the first argument presented that isn’t true. People have fled their homes in the FATA (where most drone-strikes are administered), however, it seems to have occurred because of terrorist strikes (it’s about half-way down the page in that article). Some have probably fled because of drone strikes, but it seems to be true that more have fled because of terrorists.


The fourth argument is that drones commit human rights violations, and that this is done because they kill civilians. This is a point that is in contention– a lot of the numbers on either side (drones do kill a lot of civilians versus drones don’t kill a lot of civilians) have been fudged. And there’s plenty of data to support either side. The only thing that is definitely true is that drones have caused civilian casualties, it’s just a question of how many they’ve caused.


The fifth argument is that US drone strikes undermine US credibility because the program lacks transparency and makes the United States seem hypocritical. This point is true and especially relevant as other actors begin to develop their drone programs and look to the United States for a precedent on how they should be acting. If the United States continues to conduct drone strikes in the way that it currently does, other actors will certainly do the same.


The sixth argument is fairly similar to the fifth, arguing that the United States sets a double standard with the usage of drone strikes. The people of this country certainly wouldn’t accept attack drones flying overhead (although there are certainly surveillance drones used in this country) so why should we expect people in other countries to do so?


The seventh argument is that drones cause state fragility. The reason this is true ties into the blowback terrorism argument– civilians feel as if their government isn’t able to properly protect them against a foreign threat, so they run to terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda in order to garner defenses against foreign countries. This in turn destabilizes the government as people have less faith in it.


The eighth argument is that drones draw attention away from nuclear security threats in Pakistan. This is another argument that I fundamentally disagree with– drone strikes are conducted in the name of stopping militants who could destabilize Pakistan, steal their nuclear weapons, and use them. Whether they are effective or not is a different question, but drone strikes definitely draw attention to the nuclear security threat in Pakistan.


The final argument is that drone strikes prevent the US from creating new agreements with various tribes in the FATA. This is pretty logical and goes along well with the blowback terrorism argument, as clearly people aren’t going to want to cooperate with a country who’s drone striking them constantly.


Ultimately, the drone program should be limited. I do believe that drones are effective at killing militants, but their current usage is obscene and needs to be restricted. I don’t think they should never be used (and I don’t think their usage can be stopped, especially considering that we’ve already set the precedent for other countries to begin using them), but there definitely needs to, at the very least, be more transparency in the program so the public and Congress can have more of a say in what occurs.


One thought on “9 Costs to Drone Warfare

  1. Pingback: Drones: The Real Story | thispost.

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