The Use of UAVs in Fighting the GWOT

essay paper iconFor the United States drones have become a norm in the fight against terrorism. The use of drones has been vastly employed under the President Obama's administration. This was majorly instituted and launched after the 9/11 attacks on the US by al Qaeda. The use of drones has faced controversy in all spheres of life including political, moral and legal. This controversy has been strongly cut among the citizens of the United States, and people in the rest of the world.

The paper analyzes the legality and profound successes and failures of the use of drones in warfare. It has been argued that the data on drone use inclines more to the criticism of it rather than its support. For this, however, there is an almost unclear line that provides an exact distinction between the two sides. As there are no clear cut rules, treaties and customs regulating the use of drones in armed conflict, one is left with no choice but delve deep into its positives and negatives so as to come up with a position they believe should be held.

Drones, also termed as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are remotely controlled aircrafts that may be armed with bombs and missiles for attack missions. After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011, the United States has used drones to kill suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and other countries. Proponents say drones have reduced terrorist networks abroad through precise strikes with minimal civilian casualties. It is their contention that drones are inexpensive weapons and if properly overseen and used by the government, may help ensure safety for America. Opponents of the use of drones claim that the drone strikes generate more terrorists than they kill. They claim that drone strikes leading to killings of huge numbers of civilians violate international law that consequently leads to the violation of sovereignty of other states lacking adequate congressional oversight and making war horrors seem as innocuous as a video game. The use of drones in fighting against terrorism is fighting terror with terror and brings more harm than good, so alternative means should be considered.

The first documented use of drones took place on August 22, 1849, when the Habsburg Austrian Empire propelled 200 pilotless balloons armed with bombs against citizens of Venice that were revolution-minded (Holman, 2009). The Union and Confederation forces during the US Civil War flew reconnaissance balloons to provide intelligence information before the battle and give direction to ground artillery during the battle. Japan, in 1944, released 9,000 balloons with bombs across Pacific, aiming at causing panic and forest fires in the western United States. The origin of the modern electronically controlled military drones is traced to the 1930s, when the Queen Bee was developed by the British Royal Navy and was used by British pilots for aerial targets practice. During World War 1, the technology developed by the US Navy was used to propel and stabilize drones on missions of intelligence gathering in Europe during World War 1 and over China, North Korea and Vietnam during the Vietnam War (Sifton, 2012).



A foreign policy is a planned course of action or a strategy taken by the decision maker of the state and aimed at achieving certain goals defined in terms of national interest. In the US, there are 5 components of its foreign policy. These are; National Security (preemptive vs. preventive warfare), Free Trade/ Free Markets (capitalism), Democracy, World Peace, and Humanitarian Concerns. The drone policy falls under the category of National Security. However, it may also partly fall under the category of World Peace as the conduct of world peace is accomplished through the collaboration and encouragement of local government. Through drone strikes, countries are helped to fight terrorist threats to their domestic peace and stability helping make these countries safer. This leads to peaceful coexistence between nations and hence encourages World Peace (Kaufman, 2010).

Obama supports the use of drones in maintaining the National Security of the United States of America. It is his position that the use of drones is legal as it has been overwhelmingly authorized by the Congress. He further states that the drones are used against enemies of the US that may be willing to kill as they wish if they are not stopped. Therefore, the use of drones is proportional to the threat to the security of the citizens of the US and is used as self-defense. He acknowledges that the use of drones may not be morally effective, referring to the fact that his government has been working tirelessly to develop a framework that governs use of force against terrorists. This framework is persistent on accountability, clear guidelines and oversight of the use of force, which is now codified in the Presidential Policy Guidance. Obama is hopeful that, by the end of 2014, there will no longer be the same need for force protection and that there will be enough progress made against terrorists that will reduce the need for unmanned strikes (Walker, 2012).

Obama, however, insists that the use of drones is heavily constrained. He is of the opinion that America should not take strikes when it has the ability to capture individual terrorists, with its preference always being towards detaining, interrogating and prosecuting terrorists. He insists that America does not take strikes whenever it chooses but that its actions are bound with respect for the state sovereignty and consultations with partners. The use of drones, according to Obama, is applied when there are no other options of effectively dealing with the terrorist threat.

Professor Frederick P. Hitz refers to the impact of the use of drones as a weapon in the US Global War on Terrorism, as relentless non-humanity. He further states that the use of drones is an application of lethal force, which, without warning, thrashes suspected terrorists and occasionally innocent bystanders.

Supporting Data Examining the Use of Drones

Drone strikes destroy terrorist networks, thereby making the US safer. In Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, drone attacks have killed a few thousand militants together with high-level commanders linked to organized plots against the US. This has helped disrupt plots that targeted international aviation and transit systems, and the US troops in Afghanistan. An example is the drone strikes that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, Pakistani Taliban leader.

Under the international law, through the UN Charter's Article 51, drone strikes are legal. The article promotes the nation's inherent right to self-defense in case it has been attacked. This, however, applies where the targeted state consents to the employment of force within its territory. It is also applicable where the targeted group operating within its territory bears responsibility for an aggression act against the targeting state where there is the unwillingness or inability by the host state to control the threat themselves. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen have officially consented to drone strikes by the US within their countries due to their inability to control terrorist groups within their borders. The US has anticipatory self-defense rights under the international law.

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Drone attacks, in terms of percentage of total fatalities, kill fewer civilians compared to other military weapons. Drones' accuracy and technical precision commonly limit casualties among the intended targets and combatants. Conventional war weapons such as bombs, mines and shells cause more collateral damage to people and property than drones.

Of significant importance is the safety offered by the striking of drones by the US military personnel. The launching of drones is done from bases found in allied states. These drones are remotely operated by pilots in the US. This minimizes the risks of death and injury that would have otherwise occurred in case airplane pilots and ground soldiers were used. Terrorist groups such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their affiliates commonly operate in the environmentally unforgiving and remote locations that would pose extreme dangers to the US to deploy Special Forces for tracking and capturing terrorists. Airplane and boot-on-the-ground pursuits pose serious risks to troops including anti-aircraft shelling, firefights with the surrounding communities, suicide bombers and dangerous weather conditions. These risks are eliminated by drone strikes ("Obama's Speech").

It is cheaper to use drone strikes as compared to ground or manned aerial combat. This became evident after the 9/11 attacks. To plan and execute these attacks, the Al Qaeda spent approximately half a million dollars. The United States, in response, spent about 2.2 trillion dollars on funding ground and manned air wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and homeland security. The interpretation of this is that, for every dollar spent by Al Qaeda, the US spent over 4 million dollars (Carter & Cox, 2011).

The conduct of drone strikes is carried out through the collaboration and encouragement of local governments. Through drone strikes, countries are helped in fighting terrorist threats to their domestic peace and stability. This helps make these countries safer. This has been evident from the decline in suicide deaths in Pakistan over the years, coinciding with an increase in drone strike numbers by over a ten-fold. Drone strikes have even been openly praised and more requested by Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadj, Yemen's President, and Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General. Majority of drone strikes have been conducted in Pakistan, and this has led to a major decrease in violence.

Under the laws of the United States, drone strikes are legal. The President has powers under the US Constitution's Article II and without the approval by the Congress to permit the employment of force against an imminent threat. There was also the passing of the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001 by the Congress. This authorized indefinitely armed conflict with al Qaeda and other associated forces. The AUMF provides that the President:

is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. ("Joint resolution", 2001)

There is no geographic boundary limits in the AUMF, and, therefore, all militants far from the battlefields in Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan are still in engagement in armed conflict with the US. This is thus, covered under the AUMF.

It would be highly risky for the US to fall behind in the development of drone technology. The use of drone technologies is important to the US, especially because most countries have some kind of attack or surveillance drone. It changes the way nations conduct war, and a threat of a new arms race as a result of government's move to contain their enemies. In 2001, there were about 680 active programs run by governments, research institutes and companies around the world for the development of drones, while in 2005, there were only 195. Insurgent groups are also in the move to acquire the drone technology. Opposition forces in Libya, during their attempt of overthrowing the dictator Moammar Gadhafi, acquired a drone. Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group also made claims of having flown an Iranian-made drone over Israel in 2012.

In the use of drones in armed conflicts, drone pilots possess a lower risk for post-traumatic stress disorder as compared to manned aircraft pilots and other battleground soldiers. This is because drone pilots need not have to be directly present on the battleground. They can, therefore, live normal civilian lives in the US without having a risk of serious injury or death.

Drone strikes being subject to strict review processes and congressional oversight, are supported by the majority of Americans. In his "Presidential Policy Guidance" of May 2013, President Obama set up five criteria to be met before taking lethal action against a foreign target. These criteria are; close certainty of the target's presence, close identification that non-combats will not be killed or injured, and an assessment that at the time of operation, capture is not feasible. Also, there is a need for the assessment that the relevant authorities in the targeted country are unwilling or unable to address such threat to the US citizens effectively and lack other reasonable alternatives to address this threat. This was put to the Department of Justice to further analyze it to ensure its consistency with the US laws. Research has indicated that the majority of Americans support drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. These Americans are from the entire political divide.

Drones may be a limitation to the scope and scale of the action of the military. Since the attacks on September 9, 2011 on the World Trade Center, the major threats to the security of the United States have been decentralized networks of the terrorists who operate worldwide. Through the use of drone strikes to fight against terrorists, the United States can achieve its goal but at fraction of the invasion cost in manpower, lives and money. The threats have not been related to big countries fighting with massive ground, sea armies and air. Invasion of Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen by the US to capture small terrorist groups may lead to expensive conflicts, huge number of civilian casualties, responsibility for making these governments unstable, death of the US military, empowerment of enemies who are of the view that the US is an occupying imperialist power and other consequences that are unintended. For instance, America's effort to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan through its invasion and occupation led to the dragged war lasting for more than 12 years.

Critical Data Examining the Use of Drones

Drone strikes pose a threat of creating more terrorists than those they kill. Persons who experience their loved ones suffering from injuries or their deaths as a result of drone attacks get the motivation to join and engage in actions against the US. A greater part of militants operating in Yemen currently are individuals forced to go out and fight as a result of grief brought upon them by drone attacks on their homes and loved ones (Scahill, 2012). This has increased support of al Qaeda, and its indigenous merges with the rising rage of powerful tribes.

Drone strikes have targeted persons who may not be enemy combatants or terrorists. The President's signature strikes' policy allows the military's Joint Special Operations (JSOC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to target any person fitting a particular terrorist profile or having a behavior associated with terrorism by the US government. This is regardless having not been identified conclusively by name as adversarial combatants. Drone pilots and operators are not always sure of the persons they kill, despite the guarantees of the accuracy of targeting intelligence by the CIA. It is also not publicly revealed that those killed are terrorists who have been direct and active threats to the US.

There is lack of sufficient legal oversight over drone strikes. This is because of the clandestine nature of these drone strikes. Drones have been used in conflicts related to the cases when war has not been declared and authorized openly by the Congress. It, therefore, results in unlimited power by the executive top secret wars. Due to the covert nature and being classified of CIA drone strikes, there cannot be the provision of any information about the conduct of CIA's targeted killings. This has prevented leaders from being held accountable by citizens. Drone programs have only been given to the Congress members, whom the administration deems appropriate. Judicial review claims by human rights groups that seek accountability for possible unlawful killings have faced opposition by the administration (Zenko, 2013).

Many civilians have been killed and traumas have been brought upon local populations by drone strikes. Civilians form a significant percentage of all persons killed in drone strikes. Witnesses and victims of drone strikes have expressed their experience of being caused harm beyond death and physical injury. They are haunted by the sound of drones the whole day, and by the fear that a drone could strike at any moment.

Drone strikes are a contravention of international law. International humanitarian law provides that a targeted individual must be directly linked with taking hostile actions against the US. There must be an imminent threat posed by these individuals and this threat can only be prevented through lethal force. The mere suspicion of a link to a militant organization or the CIA profiling does not warrant one's being targeted for killing. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6(1), provides that a person's life shall not be arbitrarily deprived of them. In line with the use of drones, there is a prohibition of the threat or use of force by states against each other by the UN Charter. This, however, has its exceptions that are; the cost of state's consent and the use of force being in self-defense responding to an imminent threat or armed attack with the unwillingness of the host state to take appropriate action.

The use of drones allows the US to become emotionally disconnected from the horrors of war. The soldiers are psychologically and physically removed from the battle wars and view the enemy as blips on the screen and not humans. This results in the risk of losing the deterrent to war that is normally provided by its horrors. With no deterrent, it is not difficult for the US to start new wars and extend conflicts that exist indefinitely. Machines and computers do the job, but there are real people and real deaths involved and real enemies continue to be made along with the use of drones.

Drone strikes also lead to a violation of other states' sovereignty. In most cases, these strikes are carried out against the objection of the countries that are targeted and without their permission. For instance, in 2012, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs termed drone strikes as illegal, and claimed that they were a contravention of the country's sovereignty. The UN's Human Rights Chief has pressed for investigations to be conducted to ascertain the legality of the drone strikes.

The United States' drone strikes provide cover to other states against human rights abuses. The use of drones in foreign countries makes it impossible to impose limitations on the use of drones by other countries. Just as the US makes justification on its use of drones against Afghanistan, other countries may also use this approach on targets that they consider as terrorists using the same explanation as the US and giving themselves cover against non-combatants and human rights abuses. For instance, China may give justification on its drone strikes against India's Tibetan separatists.

Many drone operators go through psychological and emotional stress. Drone pilots witness traumatic battle experiences and lack a clear distinction between personal or family life and combat life with low staffing and many hours of monotonous work. They may also experience existential conflict, which arises from the guilt and remorse because of being the aerial sniper. Social isolation at work may also diminish unit cohesion. Some of the drone pilots have been reported to have difficulties in re-entering the civilian society, relationship problems and depression.

Drone strikes are very unpopular in the countries that are affected by them. Drone strikes are hated even by those individuals who have never seen or experienced the impact of them. Most people are of the idea that these attacks are aimed at civilians and, therefore, oppose to their use.

The documentary, Unmanned: America's Drone Wars, directed by Robert Greenwald (2013), is a clear depiction of how civilians end up experiencing collateral damage from drone strikes. It presents the argument that drone strikes are destroying the lives of innocent people and that these strikes are unproductive. The film brings in influential activists, reporters and academics to narrate the illegal and brutal story of the US drone campaign in Pakistan. Their bombardment of moral and legal condemnation is convincing, but the strongest images and voices are those of the victims.

The documentary begins by telling the dreadful story of the murder of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year old, and his cousin, Waheed Khan, a 12-year old, in Waziristan, North-West Pakistan. The US target Aziz was killed through a drone strike after he had participated in a major protest of anti-drone campaign in Islamabad. He was interacting with Western activists and tribal elders in a bid to put to an end to the campaign on drones that had claimed his cousin's life, and days later as he travelled in his car, he was blown into bits.

Rehman family, speaking about the drone attack that killed their grandmother, told about the injuries that their children sustained and the fear and despair that they lived under. It forces one to reckon with the truth that is horrific. A 15-year old Saadullah lost his legs and an eye, and saw the death of his uncle, nephew and cousin during one of the attacks. His ambition of becoming a doctor came to an end since he could not walk to school. The US government did all these heinous crimes in the name of protecting its citizens.

The massacres, sometimes conducted in 'signature strikes' not based on identity but rather on conduct, serve to enhance revenge and hatred against the West among Pakistanis. Many Al Qaida sympathizers are created from the US brutal acts of killing and punishing Al Qaida members. The US exercise of follow-up strikes on rescuers is mentioned in the film but fails to explain that such tactics may constitute war crimes.

Unmanned: America's Drone Wars represents a voice and face of the victims of America's drone strikes in Waziristan. This film humanizes the victims and educates its viewers that the daily drip of murder cannot be easily brushed off.

The use of drones makes the actions of the United States in combating terrorism as repugnant as the acts of the terrorists themselves. There is no doubt that the US has an obligation of pursuing any terrorists effectively and zealously. However, the US, as the leader of the strongest democracy in the world and supporter of the rule of law, ought to be conscious of the obligation to explain itself when it becomes dependent on such terrifying, heavy-handed and unanswerable weapon as the drone. The effect of the use of drones is that it is counterproductive as it produces more terrorists than it kills. This is because of the animosity they create in local populations. Every innocent civilian who is killed represents an alienated family, more recruits for a militant movement and the strengthening of a desire to revenge. Additionally, in the long-run, the use of drones by the US may encourage the development of military attitudes and capabilities in other countries that are inimical to the interest of the US. It may lead to deployment and development of drones by other states, some of which might be opponents of the US. Majority of the countries oppose the US' use of drones against terrorists, and if this unpopularity persists, their use may become politically impractical, regardless of their convenience and cost-effectiveness. Eliminating the power to intimidate is the key to dealing with terrorists and not killing them, something that the use of drones cannot do.

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