10 Reasons the U.S. Should Stop Using Drones in Warfare
If you have listened to or watched the news in the past few years, you have certainly heard of a drone. Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, drones are aircraft that is remotely-controlled and, in the case of war, are often equipped with bombs and/or missiles. Since the attacks of September, 11, 2001 and the proclaimed “War on Terror,” the US has been using thousands of drones in war scenarios, including in the conflicts of Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.
There are private drones, of course, but these are not used in warfare. Government drones are much more advanced than the consumer drones, and often larger and much more dangerous.
Today, there are dozens of drone models available that the government uses, and these drones range in size from objects that look like planes to those that look like a hummingbird. These drones have a range of capabilities, too, and some of them, attack drones, are used in war. The most commonly used drone for attacking is the MQ-Reaper.
There are many benefits that the government touts for using drones. For one, these drones help to make the country safer, and they are cheaper to operate than manned or ground aerial combat. The majority of Americans also tend to support drone strikes more so than striking targets with manned aircraft. However, there is also the fact that most Americans do not know all there is to know about drones, and in many cases, only the positive aspects of them are ever shown to the public. There are bad things too, and here are the top 10 reasons the U.S. should stop using drones in warfare:
10. Drones Kill Innocent Civilians
One of the main reasons that the U.S. should stop using drones in warfare is that drone use leads to the killing of innocent civilians. Though it is true that the use of drones helps to kill terrorists, something that most people believe should be done, there is a lot of collateral damage, too. In other words, there is no sense of balance between the murder of an innocent mother or child and the protection that comes from this type of national security. Though drone pilots do their best to limit the civilian deaths, they are inevitable with the technology that we currently have.
According to reports, up to 17 percent of all deaths due to drone attacks are civilian deaths. These are unnecessary deaths that tear apart families, and in some cases, entire towns. There are estimates that the U.S. has killed more than 1,000 civilians in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Somalia. There is also a constant fear of people who live in these countries that a drone attack could come at any time. Imagine hearing the sound of a drone hovering above you all of the time, never knowing if or when it is going to attack and kill you, someone in your family, a neighbor or friend. This is what these people live with each and every day of their lives. This, too, is a form of terrorism, as these people live in constant terror for their lives and cannot do normal activities such as go to school or work.
9. Drone Strikes Are Probably Against International Law
Another reason the U.S. should stop using drones during war is because they are likely against international law. Amnesty International has not been silent on this. Though international law does permit the use of lethal force in some circumstances, but these are highly restricted circumstances, and in most cases, experts agree that U.S. drone strikes fall outside of these circumstances.
The United Nations governs international law, and as of yet, there has been no major push to stop these strikes from the international community. The problem here is that these strikes violate human rights when they are used outside of a defined combat zone, which goes directly against the law.
However, applying these laws has been difficult, as many countries have widened their definitions of battle zones during the international fight against terrorism. Additionally, the deployment of these drones from the U.S. may also be illegal, as the laws of war only apply to the uniformed military. This does not include the CIA, which is a civilian agency that runs the armed drone program.
The U.S. Justice Department widely defends the use of these drones with the UN charter, however. This charter allows any state to engage in war when defending itself, and it claims that this law allows the use of drones by civilian agencies, such as the CIA. Of course, this is a stretch of the law, and many are taking notice.
8. Drone Use is Widely a Secret from the Public
Anything that is kept a secret from the general public is problematic, and the use of armed drones is mostly a secret, though the UK and Israel, who also use armed drones, also keep their use of drones a secret. However, these countries are working both together and apart to find out the secrets of each other.
Bottom line here is that there is almost no transparency about the use of armed drones, and the United Nations is constantly urging these countries to declassify the information about the drones. This is necessary because without it, there is an obvious threat to International security.
Proponents of this transparency claim that it is the duty of these countries to reveal information about their drone programs to others as it is their duty under both domestic and international law. Additionally, when these countries choose not to share this information, it makes it seem as if they have something to hide, which does not bode well with other countries.
Of course, not all of the information about these attack drone programs should be released, but people should at least know that they exist, and citizens should know what the purpose of the drones are, and how these drones will be used both now and in the future.
7. Drone Strikes Create More Terrorists Than They Stop
Proponents of drone strikes claim that they work because they stop terrorists in their tracks. This, however, is not the case. Instead, those who see their loved ones killed or injured in a drone attack are even more motivated to join the forces, such as al Qaeda, which are against the U.S.
Think of this in simple terms. Imagine you have a little brother who is getting teased by the other kids at school. One day, your brother gets hit and comes home from school in tears with a black eye and a missing tooth. If you are like most older siblings, you will want revenge and go after those bullies. Another scenario involves a family who has a child murdered by a gunman in school. Should this gunman walk free without any repercussions? Of course not. The gunman would be prosecuted and jailed, according to American values.
Jeremy Scahill, who writes for The Nation, claims that the majority of those who become militants in Yemen are those who have been victimized in one way or another by a U.S. drone strike. Many of these people have lost their homes due to drone strikes, but others have lost family members, or have become injured by drone strikes.
Scahill uses data that shows the growth of high ranking al Qaeda members rising by hundreds from 2009 to 2012. This is the exact time when the U.S. began resuming drone strikes throughout Yemen, and if there are this many high ranking officials, think of the growing numbers of typical al Qaeda members.
6. There is No Set Target for Attack Drones
Another major issue that comes into play when it comes to using drones in warfare is that there is no set target for these drones when they take to the skies. Since all of this focus on the U.S. drone program has come to light, the Obama administration has made efforts to explain their use. For instance, the administration claims that the only use for these drones is to focus on al Qaeda and its forces, however, they also label anyone who dies in the process a “militant.”
On top of this, there was also a white paper that was released by the Department of Justice that claims that “targeting a member of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States is not unlawful.” What does this mean? It means that, according to the Department of Justice, it is OK to assassinate someone who is considered a threat. It also means that the U.S. can attack anyone without having any accountability for it.
The White House has said that a lethal strike can only be carried out when the pilot knows that there is “near certainty” that innocents will never be “injured or killed,” but there are a lot of people who believe that the administration believes that all males of military-age who are killed by a drone is a militant. This is why there are wide ranges when it comes to the number of civilian deaths following a drone strike. One source may consider some of these people militants, whether they are or not, while another source may consider them civilians.
5. Drones Violate the Sovereignty Of Other Nations
Another reason the U.S. should stop using drones in warfare is that it violates the sovereignty of other nations. Drone strikes are often carried out without any permission at all from the target country, and these drones cross borders without care. In 2013, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with the United Nations and said that the use of drones is a “continued violation of our territorial integrity.” He then asked that the UN take control and urge the U.S. to stop using drones.
Think of it like this: You have a piece of property that you care for with a garden, a pond and a nice gazebo where you like to entertain. Your neighbor, who lives down the street, has a small civilian drone that has a camera on it. Whenever you entertain your friends or family, your neighbor flies his drone over your property and views the goings on via the camera that is attached to the drone. Not only is this annoying, it will likely get you very angry because this guy is viewing your property without your permission and he doesn’t even care that he’s doing it.
Now, think of this: You are a country like Pakistan, and your neighbor is the U.S. Do you understand why the Pakistani government wouldn’t like that the U.S. comes into their country without permission?
There was a survey done by Pew Research that shows that only six out of 39 countries that were surveyed about the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, actually approved of the U.S. actions.
4. Drone Strikes Often Cause Stress To Drone Operators
Though many people believe that drones are programmed to find and attack targets on their own, but the truth is, there is someone out in the world who is controlling and piloting the drone. Though these people undoubtedly take their job seriously, they also face a number of unique issues that is not found in other careers.
There have been a number of studies about the emotional and psychological stress that operators of drones go through. One such study is from the Department of Neuropsychiatry at the U.S. Air Force’s School of Aerospace Medicine. This study took a look at the unique problems that a drone operator faces such as witnessing trauma in combat, extremely long hours and the lack of distinction between their personal and their professional life. On top of all of this, there is a conflict that occurs in the mind of these operators. They feel a lot of remorse and guilt while doing this job, and these feelings are exasperated by social isolation that these people experience during their work. This could lead to the susceptibility of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center studied over 700 drone operators and the affects that their job had on them. It was found that just over 8 percent of these people had at least one mental health condition that was related to their work. These include relationship issues with others and depression. These are also the same issues that combat soldiers experience on the ground.
3. Drone Strikes Do Not Kill the Right People
Though it is true that drone strikes are often successful, that doesn’t mean that the strike is killing the people it should. Drone strikes most often kill targets who are considered “low-value,” or people who are not significant threats to the security and safety of the U.S. Drones very rarely kill the “high-value” targets that actually DO pose a threat to the security and safety of our country. These are people who are leaders in al Qaeda or members of the Taliban.
Reuters reports that there are approximately 500 people that the CIA reports that were killed between the years of 2008 and 2010. These people were all labeled as “militants,” but out of that 500, there were only 14 people who were considered “top-tier” targets. Additionally, there were 25 more people who were killed who were considered “mid-to-high” level organizers of groups such as the Taliban or al Qaeda. This means that 461 people killed by drones were no threat to the U.S.
All in all, the CIA killed approximately 12 times more “militants” who caused no threat to the U.S. than those who did. Other sources, such as the New America Foundation, estimate that only about 2 percent of all of the fatalities caused by drone strikes were leaders in these organizations.
Would you be willing to shoot a gun if you only had 2 percent accuracy? Probably not.
2. Drone Strikes Hide Human Rights Abuses From Other Countries
Another concerning issue associated with drones used in warfare is that the drone strikes can hide the human rights abuses that occur in other countries. Other countries also use drones, but they often use them on their own people. This is especially the case in countries that house Taliban and al Qaeda members. When the U.S. continuously uses drones in these countries, they give these countries a cover for doing it to their own people.
The use of drones on foreign soil by the U.S. makes it extremely difficult to demand that other countries limit their drone use. What makes the U.S. so special that they can do something and other countries cannot? Just as the U.S. has justification for the strikes that they do with drones, using the excuse of the war on terror with al Qaeda, other countries have similar policies. The difference is that they often focus these attacks on their own people, especially those who do not believe in the same things they do. This would be like the Vatican sending drone strikes to Baptist churches because the people there do not practice Catholicism. Most people would find this to be horrible, but this is exactly what happens in the case of drone strikes.
If you take a world view of this, and you apply the same rules that the U.S. and other countries use, China could justify attacking Tibet, Russia could attack Chechnya and Turkey could target the Kurds in Iraq. After all, if the U.S. is doing it, why not China, Russia or Turkey.
1. The Cost of Drones is Too Expensive
Finally, the U.S. should stop using drones for attacks on others because the drone program is too expensive. There are estimates that over the next decade, the Pentagon will spend upwards of $40 billion on the construction and development of medium and large sized drones. The cost of producing a drone starts at $100,000, but the largest ones, those widely used in warfare, cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
On top of the cost of the drone, itself, you have to consider how expensive the drone is to fly. The largest drones cost approximately $30,000 per hour when in flight, which is the same as the cost of flying a stealth jet. Even small surveillance drones, those that fly around the U.S./Mexican border, cost several thousands of dollars to operate each hour.
Additionally, each drone requires care and maintenance, as well as a staff to operate it. Every drone requires about an hour of maintenance for each hour it spends in service. This requires a team of mechanical experts that all cost money, and to even operate a large drone, such as a Reaper or Predator, it requires a team of about 180 people.
President Bush and his administration created a list of “High Value Targets” that the CIA could kill without approval, and the first known strike of a Predator drone occurred in 2002 in Afghanistan. The target? Osama bin Laden. The problem? He wasn’t there. Instead, all of the people around, who were simply civilians who were gathering metal scraps, were killed.
Since September 11, more than 95 percent of all targeted killings off the battlefield were done by drones. Under President Bush, the strikes were typically done by targeting terrorists who had been identified through intelligence. In 2008, however, the CIA started targeting people and places outside of their “kill lists,” and chose to target people based on any suspicious behavior or based on how they live their lives. These are called “signature strikes,” and in 2009 – 2010 in Pakistan, approximately half of the 170 strikes completed were signature strikes, those that focused on targets that may look or act suspicious.
The bottom line is this: drones are likely going nowhere anytime soon. There are a number of benefits of them, but for every benefit, you can easily find disadvantages to the continued use of them. Thousands of people are losing their lives each year, and many of these people live in constant fear for their lives. Yes, the war on terror should be fought, and fought hard, but at what cost to the innocents?