Drones and why it is time for a serious public discussion.

RyanAbout the Author 

Ryan is a political scientist, humanist, and dog lover. He is currently a Master’s Candidate studying International Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin Madison.


The Basics

What is a predator drone?

For the purposes of this article, the word drone represents the 285 RQ-1, 75 MQ-1 predator drones currently employed by the Obama administration in countries around the world. These particular models of aircraft is especially useful because they do not require a pilot, but can instead be flown using consoles on the ground. They are cheap to produce (relatively speaking), and extremely lightweight, allowing them to hover thousands of feet above the ground for hours at a time.

What does the United States use drones for?

Drones are employed by the department of defense primarily for reconnaissance purposes. They can be equipped with an intensely powerful camera capable of taking pictures and videos from well beyond 65,000 feet.

Drones have recently been approved for local government and civilian use in many states.

And finally, the US military uses drones in order to carry out missile attacks on non-state actors that they believe pose a significant threat to the safety of Americans. These attacks occur in countries that they are at war with like Afghanistan as well as countries that they are not, such as Libya, Pakistan, and Syria.  And while this strategy generates the most attention from the press and critics, it is very rarely acknowledged by the White House and Capitol Hill. In fact, when innocent victims of US drone strikes traveled to D.C. to speak to Congress about the murder of their grandmother, only five US congressmen felt compelled to listen.

Watch. The testimony begins just after the 7:30 mark.

This is a problem. There is a definitive need for a serious and open discussion on the Military’s use of drones. We need to know how they are used, when they are used, why they are used, and most importantly, how should they be used if at all.

Why is this Necessary?

There are a vast number of reasons why this discussion must take place. These are just a few important ones.

1. Drones are not what Americans voted for

As a senator, Barack Obama rallied against the War in Iraq. He chastised President George W. Bush for what he called “the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in (the Bush) administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats” and promised that were he elected President of the United States, he would put an end to the killing. Unfortunately for those who believed in this promise and even more so for those in the Middle East, it would seem that the President has decided to simply pick up where the previous administration left off. While the overall number of troops has gone down, the amount of conflict has stayed steady. People are still fighting, killing, and dying years after the commander and chief said he would act.

2. Drones violate international law

According to the United Nations, acts of aggression are strictly prohibited unless a state or actor is believed to be an imminent threat to your civilian population.

There are far too many instances in which this rule has been blatantly ignored. Let us be frank: flying an aircraft into the airspace of a country that you are not at war with, spying on their citizens, and then firing missiles that will kill not only your target but anyone in the vicinity, is an unjustified act of aggression. It is impossible to argue that men and women in countries thousands of miles away pose an imminent threat to citizens of the United States- hardly a justifiable policy.

This reaction is equivalent to blowing up a Bank, employees and all, because you believe there may be a robbery in progress.

Amnesty International has recently released a massive and comprehensive report calling for the United States to be charged with war crimes for their use of drones. View the report here.

(Drones have also been used to bypass the constitutional rights of US citizens – particularly their right to a fair trial before being incinerated along with innocent bystanders)

3. Drones Kill Innocent People

Since 2004, the United States Military murdered over 3,000 people in order to eliminate about ­­­49 high-profile non-state actors.

US airstrikes have hit wedding parties, funerals, and primary schools in the country (as well as anti-drone activists), indiscriminately massacring countless numbers of civilians in the face of an “imminent threat.” Watch this powerful animation on the subject. 

Meanwhile, the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, has called on the United States multiple times to put an end to the killing, only for the United States to ignore these calls. In fact, either in a moment of complete ignorance or complete spite, US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee member Congressman Alan Grayson claimed that “Drone strikes would end at any time if Pakistan asked.” 

They have.

4. Drones perpetuate a violent cycle

What began as a strategy to deter against acts of aggression by enemies of the United States, has served as a recruiting tool for the very organizations that the US wishes to cripple. There are limitless accounts of activists, terror groups, and civilians speaking out against drone strikes for this very reason.

Violence Begets Violence.

This can be seen in the data when one observes terrorism trends pre and post 9/11. Prior to the Twin Towers falling and the subsequent wars, terrorism globally was on the decline. After the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan (meant to deter terrorism and free the Iraqis from oppression), acts of senseless violence spiked. One would expect a similar reaction in response to drone strikes, and that is exactly what we are seeing.

5. Drones are fired on unknown targets

We now know that the government, the CIA in particular, is authorized to carry out what are called signature strikes. This means that a drone can target and fire upon targets without first identifying who or what that target is. So long as those in command consider the image to contain a sufficient threat, they can and have ordered that threat eliminated.

So let’s talk!

We only know what we know about the United States and drone activity based upon third party reports. The Obama administration has yet to open up any debate or have any open conversations on the subject whatsoever. Despite promises for greater transparency and stronger oversight, nothing has been done.

Americans elected the people responsible for these actions, Americans pay the taxes that fund these operations, and Americans have the right to know what their government does from 60,000 feet.

Comment below with your thoughts.

2 Comments on “Drones and why it is time for a serious public discussion.

  1. I think the problem is more about how the drones are being used as opposed to the general existence of drones. I think the points brought up in this article show exactly why the drones are being used incorrectly, especially when it comes to innocent people being killed. If drones were being used in an actual war, I think there would be less problems with the use. On the whole though, I think reevaluating how drones are used is definitely something that should be happening, because there is no good justification for taking so many innocent lives.

    • Great points. I agree that it is not the inherent technology that is somehow malign, but they way in which that technology is employed by people.

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