Those discussing the use of killer drones, both pro and con, at the New York Times somehow managed to completely fail to consider the two most problematic aspects of their use:
One point in favor of drone strikes is that they are weakening Al
Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated groups, and hence protecting lives,
American and other.
Also, there don’t seem to be better means of doing
Points against drone strikes are the cost in civilian lives, the
alienation of parts of the Islamic world, potential harm to the
authority of international law, and the possibility that drone use will
spread around the world, generating more conflict and harming long-term
These are all valid points, and I respect that reasonable people
could be convinced by either set. My own reasoning turns on four
- First, states have a primary responsibility for the protection of
their own citizens. If drone strikes are the best way to remove an
all-too-real threat to American lives, then that is an especially
- Second, I doubt that ending drone strikes would substantially reduce
anti-Americanism in the Islamic world or put a dent in radical
- Third, the U.S can do a lot to moderate some harms caused by its use
of drones. By being clearer about what it’s doing and offering detailed
legal justification, the U.S. could mitigate damage to international
law and the threat of uncontrolled proliferation.
- Finally, there is evidence that drone strikes are less harmful to
civilians than other means of reaching Al Qaeda and affiliates in
remote, lawless regions (for example, large-scale military operations).
There are two serious problems with the use of drones overseas, both of which outweigh their potential benefits. First, it has successfully established a precedent for using them domestically for routine law enforcement. Second, and more problematic, the administration has foolishly granted a comprehensive justification for the use of drones by foreign forces against Americans on American soil. When foreign militaries acquire access to drones, and they will, the US will find little sympathy from other nations when the equivalent of Hellfire missiles begin raining down on New York and California.
And the threat of disproportionate response won’t necessarily be a convincing deterrent, because clever attackers will be careful to disguise who is piloting the drone. An Iranian drone might actually belong to China. A Chinese drone might actually be utilized by American rebels… or by China making it look like American rebels. The widespread use of drones is a very foolish move on the part of the U.S. Commander-in-Chief and can be safely expected to result in some serious blowback.