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The Ethics of Drone Warfare Essay

Eleven years ago, the United States Air Force launched a missile from a drone for the first time at a test range in the Nevada desert (Drone Test) . The use of armed drones has risen dramatically since 2009. Now drone strikes are almost a daily occurrence. In 2011 the use of drones continued to rise with strikes in (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia. Proponents of armed drones argue that their ability to watch and wait, with their highly accurate sensors and cameras gives increased control over when and where to strike its both increasing the chances of success and minimising the harm to civilians.

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula is the first Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Deptula contends that “the precision, the persistence, and the accuracy that remotely piloted aircraft bring to the equation actually enhance our ability to accomplish our objectives while minimizing loss of life”. There are good reasons for using more drones. Cruise missiles and jet fighters work against fixed targets, concentrations of forces or heavy weapons on open ground. They are not as useful, however, in today’s “wars among the people” fought against insurgents and terrorists.

Drones such as the Predator and the Reaper can loiter, maintaining what one former CIA director described as an “unblinking stare” over a chosen area for up to 18 hours. Edward Barrett is director of strategy and research at the US Naval Academy’s Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership. He says “If you believe that a society has a duty to reduce unnecessary risk to its combatants, then these systems do that, so that would be actually one moral obligation, and then also the state has an obligation to effectively and efficiently defend its citizens, and these systems are effective and efficient.

A soldier in the situation is scared and possible hasty in deciding what to do and acting and possibly even angry, whereas an operator who’s not threatened can use tighter rules of engagement and is not going to be fearful and therefore is going have a much cooler head. ” The US’s single most controversial policy: drone strikes. Strawser has plunged into the debate by arguing “It’s all upside. There’s no downside. Both ethically and normatively, there’s a tremendous value,” he says. “You’re not risking the pilot. The pilot is safe. And all the empirical evidence shows that drones tend to be more accurate.

We need to shift the burden of the argument to the other side. Why not do this? The positive reasons are overwhelming at this point. This is the future of all air warfare. At least for the US. ” Opponents argue that by removing one of the key restraints to warfare – the risk to one’s own forces – unmanned systems make undertaking armed attacks too easy and will make war more likely. Evidence is beginning to emerge that it is the persistent presence of UAVs sitting over remote villages and towns simply looking for ‘targets of opportunity’ that may be leading to civilian casualties.

The CIA oversees drone strikes as part of counterterrorism operations, but US officials refuse to discuss the program publicly. According to a tally by the nonpartisan New America Foundation, since 2004 there have been more than 260 US drone strikes in Pakistan, which the foundation estimates killed between 1,600 and 2,500 people. Not everyone feels comfortable with all this. Critics say that the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of drones have been neglected. Some of those concerns may be exaggerated, but others need to be taken seriously, particularly if, as seems certain, armies will increasingly fight with machines, not men.

The strikes have generated strong protests from Pakistanis who claim that many civilians as well as militants have been killed. The US takes the position that those strikes are permissible as part of the war against terror. The United States is surely right to seek to minimise its own casualties, but if war can be waged by one side without any risk to the life killing large numbers of persons who we would never allow to be killed if they were in another geographic zone—if they were in the United States, for example.

While Americans debate the ethics of killing American citizens abroad without a trial, as happened in May 2010, an errant U. S drone strike killed Jabr Al-Shabwani, the popular deputy governor of Marib Province, in the country’s east. Al-Shabwani had been mediating a discussion between militants and the government when the hellfire missile struck. The death of Al Shabwani outraged Yemenis across the country. And the government approval of the drone strikes has stoked separatist sentiments in the south that have plagued the country for generations. People can make themselves liable to be killed by a drone strike in defence of the non-liable people they are threatening. ” (Rory Carroll) The practice of using unmanned aerial vehicles to target suspected terrorists in southern Yemen has had myriad repercussions, beyond just civilian casualties. Local government officials say, the psychological impact of hearing the endless buzz of drones flying overhead. There are a number of legal issues associated with the use of armed drones.

The Laws of Armed Conflict, known formally as International humanitarian law (IHL) are made up of a number of internationally agreed treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the Geneva Conventions, the Genocide Convention and what are called the ‘customs of war’, codified as the Nuremberg principles. Under IHL there are only two types of war – an international armed conflict which takes place between two or more states, and an internal conflict (sometimes called civil war) which takes place within a single state or territory (Ken Dilanian).

Under these terms many would argue that the attacks of 11 September 2011 and the global campaign against al-Qaeda should be viewed as a law enforcement issue, not as a matter of war (Anthony Dworkin). However, the US insists that it is engaged in a non-international armed conflict. Civilians who are “directly participating in hostilities” may be targeted, but there is much debate about what ‘directly participating in hostilities’ constitutes and when individuals regain the protection afforded to civilians on ceasing to be directly participating in hostilities. hile legal experts and human rights organisations have condemned the rise in targeted extra-judicial killing enabled by the use of armed drones. The United States is the leading user of armed drones and operates two separate ‘fleets’ – one controlled by US military forces and one by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). On 30 September, Anwar al-awlaki, an alleged leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed alongside Samir Khan in a US drone strike in Yemen. Both men held US citizenship and neither was the subject of any criminal proceedings(Anthony Dworkin). As Ben Wizner of the American Civil

Liberties Union (ACLU) put it: “If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the President does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state. “(Matthew Rothschild). What matters to me is whether the cause itself is justified. The lack of clarity around who may be targeted and when, combined with the secrecy surrounding drone strikes is extremely troubling. As Christopher Rogers writes:“Residents of areas in which drones operate do not know what kind of conduct or relationships could put them at risk.

Offering indirect support to militants such as food or quarter or political or ideological support would not formally qualify under international norms as “direct participation in hostilities. ” However, it is entirely possible that the US considers many people to be combatants, owing to their relationships to known militants, when they are legally civilians. ”(Christopher Rogers) All of these questions, and many more, need to be debated openly and honesty and require careful analysis and clear-headed judgement based on evidence.

Unfortunately that evidence is being kept strictly under wraps. While it may be necessary to keep some information secret, we do not believe it is appropriate, or legitimate, to refuse to disclose any and all information about the circumstances of the use of Reapers over the past three years. There is, at the very least, the sense that public discussion is being manipulated. With the use of armed drones only set to increase, we need a serious, public – debate on all these issues and ensure there is full public accountability for their use.


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