Why does America need drones?
The answer is straightforward: With surging military expenditures and the increasing financial burden caused by intervening in security situations to protect its interest, America needs a more surgical approach to deal with terrorism.
Now, it seems that the US is less inclined to use military force as an instrument of war but rather more inclined to use weaponized pilotless aircraft or drones to protect its interests worldwide.
Perhaps, in a twilight war with no defined frontlines, where enemies remain elusive and conceal themselves among unsuspecting humanity, drones become the weapon of choice because they are unusually effective and politically popular.
Besides, drones save US soldiers from direct confrontation, are far more precise than big bombs and minimize collateral deaths of innocent bystanders; these are some of the other winning points America puts across to justify its drone strategy.
Moreover, US President Barack Obama’s new policy on drones indicates that the US now wants to pursue its enemies without further compromising America’s international reputation, already tainted by allegations of torture and Guantánamo abuse.
These considerations have compelled Obama's administration to appoint a new architect of America’s modern warfare, John O. Brennan. The CIA nominee is already prepared to compile rules for a war the Obama administration believes will far outlive its own time in office, whether that is just a few more months or four more years.
Now, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Yemen and even Somalia, strikes are extensively reported, and the US administration regularly acknowledges them, albeit cautiously. But the controversial program remains officially classified, along with the rules and procedures that guide the drone war. One canot be sure whether rules and procedures even exist.
The US setting a bad precedent by violating the rule of law
Civil libertarians and activists are right in protesting against the drone policy. They see the use of missile-firing drones to weed out suspected terrorists as a threat to the rule of law. American citizens, such as al-Qaida propagandist Anwar Awlaki, were killed with drones without any investigation into their guilt or sentencing in a US court.
Also, it must be noted that a decade ago, the US enjoyed a near monopoly on the use of drones. Now at least 50 countries operate surveillance drones, and armed drones will soon become assets in military arsenals. With no international rules to govern the use of armed drones, the approach that the US takes may define the global rules of drone engagement.
Can the US expect other nations to adopt the oversight and restrictions that it follows while hitting suspected targets? Is the US getting prepared for a situation when terrorists attain the capability to acquire drones and the whole exercise of surgical strikes leads to the proliferation of drones as tools of war, assassination and terror?
Who is the US targeting?
The drone program under former US President George W. Bush targeted senior leaders of al-Qaida suspected of planning attacks on the US. Now, with the US getting further involved in zones of conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, the strikes are starting to target low-level militants engaged in conflicts with local governments. In these cases the identity of those killed in drone strikes cannot be established.
The new practice of targeting low-level militants gave rise to controversial tactic known as signature strikes -- the permission to target groups of “military-age males” who bear certain “signatures” or defining characteristics associated with terrorism, but whose identities aren’t known.
Reports point out that the unhindered signature strikes in different parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan have targeted mosques, non-combatants and even funeral processions.
No international agencies monitor the attacks and no one really knows how many people have perished through drone-hits in remote areas inhabited by poor and helpless citizens. How long will the US continue with its controversial drone strikes without being answerable to anyone?
Besides, the US cannot overlook that fact that drones may be precise, but intelligence information can be fallible. There are bound to be mistakes leading to the death of innocent civilians and those affected by drones will have strong reasons to hate America.
Already, simmering hatred is evident in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. In these parts, the symbol of America is no longer the statue of Liberty, but a killer drone.
With continuing conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Mali, it is evident that drones create a false sense of security. Moreover, by targeting suspected terrorists with drones, the US is not improving governance in any of these nations.
Instead of spending billions of dollars in drone diplomacy, the US could possibly engage with tribal leaders or strengthen local governments through pragmatic diplomacy.
Newer military technologies have always created strategic and ethical dilemmas. And armed drones, as the weapons of choice for today’s warfare without defined boundaries will surely generate its own share of dilemmas.
The point to debate now is: Do drone strikes provide a convincing option when dealing with terrorism, or do the controversies generated by drones outweigh the benefits?
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