|The Bureaucratization of War:
Moral challenges exemplified by the covert lethal drone
that citizens are merely ruled and no better than indifferent spectators.
C Wright Mills observed the disenfranchisement that impairs the modern and largely urban bureaucracy. Describing the way that the political bureaucracy manipulates the community, Mills described how "there is the propagandist, the publicity expert, the public-relations man, who would control the very formation of public opinion in order to be able to include it as one more pacified item in calculations of effective power.38 He argued that:
The communications which prevail are so organized that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. The realisation of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organize and control the channel of such action.39
Mills critiques a mode of bureaucratic functioning, which presumes citizens are content to experience political events at an unworried and indifferent distance. He identifies the spin and concoction, which operates to put a cordon sanitaire around politics. The people are kept at a safe distance, their engagement in politics regulated by the apparatus and ordinance of the press office. Part of this is political stagecraft, the rehearsed rhetoric that has been a part of democratic life since the Pnyx. But there is a part that is not so innocuous: a part that bowdlerizes public statements and keeps the people silent.
Citizens, of course, do not declare war. They may be able to veto military operations at the ballot box, though usually only after a declared conflict has exacted a terrific cost. Even so, in modern mass democracies, the consent of the people remains a critical condition of war's legitimacy. Such consent will, of course, be influenced by propaganda and bellicose patriotism
as much as by a commitment to the high ideals of justice. But at a critical level, public consent for war depends upon the manifest and meaningful accountability of legitimate authority. The drone campaign, which is concealed by political bureaucracy, fails to meet any standard of accountability.
A different concern about covert drone killings, acknowledges democracy's use of force as a consequential expression of democracy. A democracy should be very mindful of the force it uses at home, and abroad. Speaking against the death penalty, Cesare Beccaria argued in his 1764 Essay on Crimes and Punishments, the State ought only go so far. He argued that the State's obligation to maintain order does not mean the State has licence to do whatever it wants. The protection of public security does justify some measure of imposition, but "every act of authority of one man over another for which there is not an absolute necessity, is tyrannical".40 Thus the smallest encroachment beyond that which is strictly necessary is "abuse, not justice".41 Thus, a democratic people will not accept that the State has the power to use force against them in secret, without any measure of accountability. Similarly, a democracy should be circumspect in its use of force abroad.42
But the covert drone program contravenes critical human rights and democratic ideals, and dissipates the integrity of democratic justice. Covert drone strikes are not flown by military personnel in declared war zones. Covert missions do not target identified military targets. Covert drone strikes are mounted against those who are merely presumed to be terrorists; against those who merely look like terrorists, who fit a profile - in the argot of C.I.A. covert strikes - a signature. The risks are very great. Since covert operations began in
Pakistan in 2004, one estimate is that 780 civilians, including 175 children, have been casualties.43
Sustaining a covert drone program therefore, erodes the capacity of a democratic nation to advance global justice. As ^.program, covert drone operations are highly structured and of such a scale that they have become bureaucratized. The inescapable corollary is that decisions to kill are not like the decision soldiers may make to kill an adversary. The drone program makes killing impersonal, a matter of routine. Killing is less intensely and less patently a moral judgment.
The Einsatzgruppen and the crematoria gave pitiless and repugnant expression to the minutes and decisions of political staff, of meetings and committees. Just so, covert drones give lethal effect to the recommendations and determinations of bureaucrats who define the official criteria of signature targets.
The dangerous convenience of drones
Concealed behind the muddiness of bureaucratic language and routine, covert drone killing seems merely expedient and not at all upsetting or shocking. Targets are serviced: problems are solved. On its face, justice is served. But without the conscientious and purposeful commitment of the polity, killing is less an act of just war than low murder. Enabled by the bureaucracy and disconnected from the social conscience, drone killing is effortless - but it is not bloodless, and not without moral significance.
In Perpetual Peace, Kant argued powerfully that the democratic state should be less likely to go to war because:
If, as must be so under (the republican or democratic) constitution, the consent of the subjects is required to determine whether there shall be
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war or not, nothing is more natural than that they should weigh the matter well, before undertaking such bad business. For in decreeing war, they would of necessity be resolving to bring down the miseries of war upon the country. This implies: they must fight themselves; they must hand over the costs of the war out of their own property; they must do their poor best to make good the devastation which it leaves behind; and finally, as a crowning ill, they have to accept a burden of debt which will embitter even peace itself.44
Kant understands that democratic citizens, realising the price to be paid in blood and treasure, will deliberate the necessity of conflict seriously. But, disguised and glossed by the political bureaucracy, covert drone killing seems costless and without moral risk. The citizens are misinformed; they cannot give fully formed consent to the killing committed in their name.
The dissimulation of bureaucratic language is aided and abetted by drone technology. Pioneering technology informs the rhetorical devices which aim to reduce political and societal inhibitions to conflict. Drones are described as "unmanned," "robotic" and "remote" Technological ideas are applied with practiced artifice to amplify the psychological distance, which separates advanced democratic society from the distant impact of Hellfire missiles. Technological language dissolves the human empathy, which should inform the moral calculus of war.
The misappropriation of technical language may bring about more than concern about deceit. Technology, which enables the political bureaucracy to depict drone strikes as clinical, routine, regulated and efficient, may contribute to a public callousness, to a public susceptible to the idea of costless war, and to a public predisposed to tolerate wars waged by the bureaucratic
class. In his book, Wired for War, political scientist P. W. Singer writes, "unmanned systems represent the ultimate break between the public and its military".45 Singer recognizes that a weapons system can shape the viability of military action. But more importantly, he illuminates the way that technology can erode our controlling humanity and moral insight. From this perspective he informs the debate about the dehumanising bureaucratization of war, which may make war more likely.
Drones, bureaucracy and the meaning of
Vesting the secret bureaucracy with lethal power has transformed the idea of war. Traditionally trusted and commissioned by the State as custodians of lethal power, the military has been supplanted unwisely. Waged covertly by the bureaucracy, war has become remote and killing sneaky. Society ought to remember the critical role of honourable soldiers.
When Thucydides relates how the Corinthians sneered at the Athenian use of mercenary soldiers,46 he reveals the inter-relationship of soldiers and the State, which is foundational to the western military tradition. Thucydides understands how martial ideals embody - or should embody - the aspirations of society. Disparaging the Athenian mercenaries, Thucydides reveals the deep-set roots of our understanding that war is an act of national sacrifice.
Covert drones exaggerate the moral distance, which separates civilians from the reality of killing done in their name. The lethal bureaucracy reduces war to outright industrial carnage. Without sacrifice, lacking chivalry, bravery and moral discernment, war becomes a merely legal-technical term, which is applied to excuse political butchery.
This is a dangerous turn of events because more than a legal construct, war is a moral endeavor. "For as long as men and women have talked about war, they have talked about it in terms of right and wrong".47 War - more than a physical fight or base slaughter - is a moral concept, richly and powerfully informed by ideals which societies recognize as critically important. These ideas are not conspicuous in the narrative of drone warfare and secret agencies.
Once high ideals are sacrificed to pragmatism, the war is lost. Often tacit, the power and credence of the appeal to high-mindedness is made explicit in United States Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine, which argues "lose moral legitimacy, lose the war"48
This is a critical idea. In The Trojan Women (415b.c), Euripides demonstrates the significance and complexity of the moral thinking which textures the profession of arms. Following the capitulation and slaughter of Melos, and butchery at Plataea, Scione, Hysiae and (almost) Mytilene (where the decree to murder the populace was rescinded at the last minute) Euripides was heartsick at "simple barbarity".49 When he has Hecuba exclaim: "Achaeans! All your strength is in your spears, not in the mind,"50 Euripides illustrates the ethical perspective that should distinguish soldiers from murderers and war from mere butchery. When Euripides has Poseidon curses the victorious Greeks:
That mortal who sacks fallen cities
is a fool,
Who gives the temples and the
tombs and hallowed places
Of the dead to desolation. His own
turn must come.51 He points out a fundamental truth -war should advance in the cause of a better peace. Such an end can be accomplished only when conflict is
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
The Bureaucratization of War:
Moral challenges exemplified by the covert lethal drone
conducted with chivalry and ethical sensitivity. Without regard for ideals, the drone-wielding realist bureaucracy will earn resentment and inspire revenge. As Euripides cautions; their own turn will come.
Drones and a democratic commitment to end terrorism
The legitimate struggle against terrorism will not, in the end, be won by military force. Neither will terrorists be defeated by drones of the bureaucracy. Terrorism poses a threat, which might best be combated by the law, and by political dialogue and integration. In a 2008 research report, the RAND Corporation found that "a transition to the political process is the most common way in which terrorist groups (end)"52 When political integration was not the answer, the RAND report found policing to be the next most effective strategy for combating terrorism.53
A sustained commitment to drone operations is not, therefore, a sensible long-term strategy.
The drone is relatively precise weapon, and one that limits the necessity for military "boots on the ground". But the drone is not the means by which peace will be won, nor the means by which democracy will be advanced. The implication is significant, because democratic nations will be judged as much by the company they keep, as by the means they employ.
Drones: their future responsible use
What is once seen or heard cannot be unseen and unheard. The drone is a technological advance, which represents a profound and now pervasive challenge to the western profession of arms, to western democracy and to the prospects of
global justice. Where the drone leads, other weapons systems will follow. Our moral thinking must keep up.
The drone is an instrument of the State's lethal power, which rightly belongs in the hands of the military. But the governance and regulation of drones must be transparent. Drone operations should be morally defendable, as well as operationally practical. Even if the specific details of operations are concealed, the citizens in whose name violence is practiced should be able to trust that State sanctioned killing is not furtive murder, and not habituated bureaucratic routine.
As the drawdown from major operations in Afghanistan takes effect, various lawless frontiers will likely emerge as a new and difficult area of operation. These will not be the defined battlefields of declared wars. Insurrectionary frontiers will be the territory of failed or failing States and, conceivably, the incubators of hostile radicalism. Drones, deployed as part of the post Afghanistan force projection strategy, will patrol these inexact marches. Such operations, though they may well be covert, need to be philosophically transparent. Publically accessible rules of engagement need to define the basis upon which a covert lethal drone strike may be authorized. Force projection needs to be more than lawful, and recognized as just and responsible.
The drone, though stealthy, needs to emerge from the bureaucracy. Drones must not be the implements of a bureaucratized murder program. The drone is a military instrument, materially indistinguishable from airborne munitions, or from cruise missiles launched from far-flung platforms at sea. As a military apparatus, lethal drones should be deployed only in declared war zones, by a disclosed military command
chain, subject to publically accessible rules of engagement and governed by transparent targeting protocols. All the rules and limits, which apply to conflict and to military systems, should apply to drones.
There may well be cases where targeted political assassination by covert means, is justifiable. But this issue was not the focus of the present paper. The present discussion argued that alarm bells should ring when bureaucrats, secure in their shadowy fiefdoms, embark upon programs of systematized murder by remote control
In conclusion, covert lethal drone operations exemplify the recasting of state-sanctioned lethal force. But, beyond their constructive part in operations, drones menace the democracy they are supposed to defend, and the ideals they are supposed to protect.
The paper did not argue against the operation of covert lethal drones per se. The focus of discussion was on the bureaucratization of lethal drones. We argued that when killing is meshed in bureaucratic routine, the State connives at foundational moral ideas. As a program formalized in government procedures, lethal drone operations are unlike particular strikes against named individuals. Bureaucratized covert killing is mechanical in character and petrifying in scale.
Lethal drones reduce war to a political pogrom. People are murdered by the State beyond the bounds of declared war zones, because they fit an undisclosed profile. The ritual of legalistic language rationalizes killing, but the high ideals of democracy and justice are irretrievably diminished. And, with every covert strike, the legitimate struggle against terrorism is compromised.
The drone is precise weapon, and one that limits the requirement for "boots on the ground". But the drone is
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
not the means by which peace will be won, nor the means by which justice will be advanced. Though stealthy, the drone needs to emerge from the bureaucracy. Drones must not be the concealed weapons of injustice. VL