Drone Warfare – Can It Be Justified?


The recent announcement that the United Nations will be beginning to critically examine the complaints or questions of a number of nations concerning the use of military “drones” or unmanned remote-controlled aircraft, and especially their use in killing those considered justifiable targets, raises a number of questions that need to be seriously examined.

       The first is moral or ethical.  The UN seems particularly concerned about the number of unintended or civilian victims of these airstrikes, which are being particularly used, it would seem, to catch the intended targets at unguarded or unsuspecting moments –- in other words, very often in situations off the battlefield.  While such “collateral damage” is not unexpected, especially when air power of any sort is used, it must be asked what sort of warnings have been given to people to give them a fair chance to avoid becoming and unintended victims of such sudden and unexpected strikes?    Instead, there have been reports that some of these strikes have been “double-taps” – that is, that a second missile has been fired to increase the number of casualties after the first has been fired to hit the primary target.  If true, this is a particularly heinous tactic, a stooping to the level now being increasing used by suicide-bombing terrorists.

       The second question is legal.  When these strikes take place in a country with which we are not at war – for example Pakistan -– do these not involve a transgression of international law?  That Pakistan itself seems unable to control what is going on along it’s western border with Afghanistan does not change matters from the legal standpoint, unless perhaps the USA has been openly invited by the Pakistani leaders to strike there at will.  But unfortunately this hasn’t happened, and probably won’t as long as Pakistan remains a democracy and the majority of its citizens would be enraged at any leaders that do admit to giving such permission.  This is, I think, a more important question than the legal one involved in the drone-accomplished killing of the American-born leader of al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula.  Yes, he was an American citizen, but he had declared war against his home country and the leaders of Yemen, where was hiding out, had given permission to strike there where he was a major threat to that country as well.

       But this whole question of legality is important, even if more for psychological reasons than legal ones as such.  It used to be that leaders of countries or of revolutions were also leaders, even physically, in battle.  They usually led the charge personally, putting themselves at the position of most risk.  Perhaps that all changed when firearms first entered the scene, and generals, if they were smart, began directing things more safely from the rear.  But it did begin to mark the point in which this whole business of the wholesale killing of people for political, economic, or even religious reasons began to reach a new low, and accordingly, where the average person who ends up a possible victim of all this mayhem can be justified in harboring even great hatred or contempt for the leaders who resort to such tactics.  Even Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration, began to worry about whether we were not creating more enemies by some of our tactics, yet it was under this same administration that we began to use drones and the Obama administration, eager to end the wars that others started, and to do so with less cost to ourselves, began to increase their use.

       For myself, I can see only one possible good result from all of this.  Considering that it is estimated that somewhere around fifty countries already have the capability of entering into the drone war arena (in fact Iran has already shot down one of our drones and also seems to have supplied Hamas in Gaza with a few surveillance drones) maybe eventually no war-bent politician, jihadist, or megalomaniac will ever feel safe and accordingly never dare start a war again.  But I’d feel more confident in that hope if in past history the supposed weapon that would make all future war unthinkable had finally or actually turned out that way. Instead, it has usually turned out to be just the opposite.


R W Kropf  1/30/2013

RWKropf           1/30/13                                        Drones.doc  13-01-30.html