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Summary by Mr. Matthew Hensell
Professor Brooks chose to give her presentation to the Society in the Socratic Style, taking audience input at the beginning of her talk and building on what audience members said. She asked all audience members their opinion on drone strikes and noted that there were mixed reactions, with one half believing that drone strikes were good and the other believing that they were bad. She then asked the audience why they felt that way.
Among the reasons for why drone strikes are “bad” were: drone strikes are indiscriminate in targeting (risking more civilians), lowering the “cost” of using lethal force, and the use of “double-taps” which may hurt first responders, concern over the lack of due process, blurring of the lines between intelligence-gathering and military, issues of sovereignty, the “unsporting” nature of killing at a distance, and the possibility that terrorist groups will use drones as rallying points.
Among the reasons for why drone strikes are “good” were: the lowered cost and risk of using drones for military actions, possibly less of a sovereignty issue than human actors, allows for more control at the top of the chain of command, more effective in asymmetrical warfare against terrorists who do not wear uniforms, and the use of drones as a projection of U.S. power and a deterrent against terrorism.
Professor Brooks then proceeded to address many of these varying points and explained many common misconceptions.
Drones are actually better at preventing civilian casualties than other technologies because the constant surveillance provides a more accurate picture and allows us to err on the side of caution. Drones are also safer for the person making the decision than a soldier would be and cause proportionately fewer casualties, since the drone’s methods are more effective.
The claim that drones are “unsportsmanlike” is also insufficient because the history of warfare is built around having an unfair advantage. The development of the crossbow and longbow were seen as so unsportsmanlike in their day that the Pope at the time declared them “unchivalrous”. The same viewpoint was taken during the use of machine guns in World War II. Every evolution in war has initially been viewed with discomfort.
The claim that the use of drone strikes create a disconnect between the operator and their target has also been refuted. Claims that drones cause a “Playstation mentality” and reduce the consideration of human life are actually opposed by the high rates of PTSD which drone operators experience in their line of work. This is largely due to the fact that drone operators are monitoring their targets live normal lives and must return to their own lives at the end of the day. They are also troubled by the instinct of sportsmanship and feel an inhibition against killing someone whose name and face they know, especially if their target has no idea what is coming.
The concerns about blowback from drone usage are also the same concerns all U.S. policy must address. Ground forces are as much a cause for concern as drones are. In reality, this is less of a drone problem and more of a U.S. policy issue.
The use of drones is beneficial in that it keeps U.S. personnel safe by not exposing them to danger in the same way that troops wear body armor. The use of drones, however, is much cheaper than supplying armor and weapons to troops. Added to the actual cost is the human cost associated with warfare. The lower proportional civilian cost is also important, not just morally but politically as well. In spite of this, there is the real temptation to use drones more than necessary.
Drones do, however, lead to new costs. The lowered cost of cross-border lethal force does create a sovereignty issue. This leads to the new strategic cost and rule of law cost (reputation cost). The strategic cost focuses on the question which Donald Rumsfeld once asked: “Are we killing more terrorists than we’re creating?” The question here is whether or not the anger and resentment that arise from use of drones will result in ramifications. Since the Obama administration has expanded the scope of drone targets past what President Bush had, and gone after more lower-ranking targets.
The rule of law cost enters into the complicated question of when drone strikes can be allowed. To understand the rule of law cost we need to understand that there are two separate types of laws: lex generalis (peacetime law) and lex specialis (war law). Under lex specialis, people are legally allowed to kill their enemies under “combatant immunity”. If a person is killed under lex generalis, then it is a crime. This leads to the conclusion that drone strikes in peacetime are an illegal action going against human rights and international law. The key issue here is how the war on terror does not have clearly labeled combatants or a viable future end-point, which blurs the line as to what is peacetime.
Another key issue in the drone debate is due process. The secret process which goes into deciding who to target seems to oppose the U.S. tenant of due process. Many individuals are concerned that there is no legal principle which would prevent an administration from killing an innocent U.S. civilian. This lack of due process has caused other nations to view drone strikes as extrajudicial murders. As a result, our allies have become increasingly reluctant to share information with the U.S. out of fear of being taken to court as well. Professor Brooks concluded the due process section by asking the audience to imagine a world wherein a nation with a history of human-rights violations (like China or Russia) held this power instead of the U.S.
Professor Brooks concluded her presentation with a question and answer session with the audience.
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