On September 11th of 2001, a number of Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American airliners in order to be flown into buildings as suicide attacks on the United States. Almost 3,000 innocent people died due to these attacks, people with families and loved ones, and the United States is not tolerating these actions. America launched a War on Terror, while simultaneously invading Afghanistan due to their harboring of Al-Qaeda shortly after these 9/11 incidents. President Barack Obama has said on multiple occasions that "Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world," and the United States military is now using drone strikes to confirm this. These said drones are used to invade other countries that harbor alleged terrorists, and have been increasingly used since Obama joined the office. Drone warfare not only keeps our soldiers safe and sound in America, but it also is more effective, ethical, and keeps innocent people safe and alive.
As the United States declared the Global War on Terror, it also started its drone program. According to Milena Sterio in her article "The United States use of Drones in the War on Terror," two drone programs were started. One section in the US military, and one in the CIA. In the military section, the drones were simply a new form of force being used. In the CIA section however, the purpose of drones was to strike down Al-Qaeda targets regardless of their geographic location, even in other countries that the United States was not in conflict with. The main objective of the Drone Program is to save American lives by stopping well known Al-Qaeda targets, cripple their forces and organizations, and stop them from being capable of full force attacks on the United States. Drone warfare has evidently been successful in doing so.
The United States uses drones for one solid reason: They work. According to Daniel Bymanin his article "Why Drones Work," not only have drones done their job by killing key leaders of Al-Qaeda and also prevented sanctuaries for them in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, but they have also done this with very small financial cost, with absolutely zero risk to our troops and drone pilots, and with a smaller amount of civilian casualties than any other form of force previously used by the US. It seems obvious that drone warfare is here to stay for a long period of time. We are now capable of crippling Al-Qaeda forces and their allies with little to no collateral damage. Byman is surely correct in his argument that drones work not only because they very clearly are effective, but also because the morality of them is higher than any other form of force due to their very small numbers of civilian casualties, and the complete lack of risk to our own troops.
To furthermore prove the drones’ effectiveness, Byman continues to share with us the fact that since Obama has been in the White House, our drones have been estimated to have killed around 3,300 Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other jihadist members against the United States. Of those 3,300 members, over 50 of these have been senior leaders of either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The fact that we can now kill key leaders of Al-Qaeda with less effort yet more efficiency is crucial to stopping terrorists, and preventing attacks on the United States. When experienced leaders are no longer in power, lower powered leaders are then brought up, and this results in a less organized, less threatening Al-Qaeda/Taliban. Not only is it in our best interest to eliminate high key leaders, but killing lower tier members is also beneficial to us. These "lower tier" members hold specialized skills that not many other members are capable of doing, and once they are eliminated these skill sets become scarcer in the terrorist groups.
While drones are effective in killing and targeting terrorists, they also make it easier over time to pin point and target them. Byman further explains that drones not only kill off terrorists, but also hurt their ability to communicate, train new recruits, and even recruit new members. In his article "Drones and the Boundaries of the Battlefield," Michael Lewisstates that drones contain "more than ten times the endurance of unrefueled manned aircraft," and this enables them to track targets for hours at a time before making the decision to strike. This endurance is what makes drones so effective. In Daniel Byman's article, he states that a tip sheet was found among the Jihadists in Mali that contained information on how to operate despite the drones that were surveillancing the area. Due to the drones constant hovering, terrorist members are now forced to avoid electronic devices, all wireless contacts, gathering in open areas, and also gathering during daylight. Not only are these terrorist groups terrified of our drones, but it is also now nearly impossible for them to train in large groups, and/or run drills that require many people. Instead of their training being beneficial for them, it is now a constant risk that they have to take. It is a risk to their members, and it is also a risk to the leaders which give orders, and are not easy to come by if something were to happen to them.
However, this long loiter time isn't only crippling to the targeted terrorists groups, but it is also beneficial to the United States and the civilians that surround the said targets. The drones being used in warfare allow for greater precision of the drone pilots, which in turn results in a greater safety level for any civilians that may be in the area. Since our drone pilots are not in direct risk to their lives, they are enabled to take their time to decide when to attack, and when any civilians would be at the least amount of risk. Many people would claim that our pilots not actually being in the area of attack would make these strikes less accurate, but the reality of this is actually the complete opposite. According to Kenneth Anderson,in his article "The Case for Drones," drone pilots have a much greater sense of awareness in the battlefield than pilots of any manned aircraft, while at the same time not having to worry about keeping their jet in the air. This is due to the drones’ greater ability to provide a constant visual and audio feed, rather than just instrument data. It is this constant sensory information that allows for greater precision and accuracy, and that allows for the decision of whether or not to fire to be made by committee rather than the drone pilot themselves.
Kenneth Anderson provides information in his article from a study on the decision making process done by Gregory McNeal, and states that the process "starts from the assessment of intelligence through meetings in which determinations, including layers of legal review, are made about whether a potential target has sufficient value, and, finally, whether and when to fire the weapon in real time. The drone pilot is just a pilot." The fact that drones provide a greater gathering of sensory data, allow for longer loiter time, and enable a large group of people to make and decide on a decision to fire, shows that the use of drones by the United States not only allows us precision and accuracy, but also considers civilian lives and makes it possible for them to be saved. Drones are a more ethical, moral, and efficient form of force than any other prior forms used by the United States.
It must not be forgotten that not only are drones valuable in the sense that they work and save lives, but they can also be defined by the amount of dollars they save us. We all know that the United States uses an enormous amount of money on the military, but here is where some money can be saved. Michael Lewis takes us more in depth inside his article "Drones and the Boundaries of the Battlefield." Michael claims that is it the low cost of these drones that will carry themselves over into the next few decades of warfare. In his article, it is stated that the more basic drones cost about 1/20th as much as the latest combat aircraft. Not only are the basic drones immensely cheaper, but the more advanced drones (which feature jet propulsion and some stealth technology) are 1/10th as much as the latest combat aircraft. However, these cheap costs of drones are exactly what makes some individuals argue against them. Due to the lack of money spent, they are slow, loud, occasionally become visible, and lack a self-defense system (they are mostly focused on offensive tactics and surveillance). If money were to be spent on making them more versatile and capable of defending themselves, then this would defeat the purpose of drones: not being costly. On the other hand, one must pay attention to the drones’ purpose. These drones were never designed to be used against a very technologically advanced country or state. Their primary purpose was to be used in the United States Global War on Terror, to be persistent in denying terrorists any safe haven while also sparing the most innocent lives. Drone Strikes have delivered.
Many people who oppose the use of drone strikes have provided alternative methods. These alternatives methods seem great on paper, but in our imperfect world they just simply would not work. It has also been argued that killing off leaders of Al-Qaeda has been proven to be ineffective. In her article "Why Drones Fail," Audrey Cronin states that "the fighters have proved remarkably adaptable." Audrey then goes forward to state that a document was found in February of 2013 that was left behind by Islamist fighters fleeing Mali, and that this document consisted of 22 tips for avoiding drone attacks. Some of these tips were using trees as cover, placing dolls and statues outside to mislead aerial intelligence, and covering vehicles with straw mats.
These "tips" don't show adaptability. They show the exact opposite. The fact that they are resorting to these tips is showing signs of struggle in organization, communication, and time consumption. Al-Qaeda members now have to constantly watch their backs during their failed attempts in secrecy and recruitment, and can no longer focus on their main objective to lash out at the United States. Not only are they unable to focus with us always over their heads, but their failed attempts in terrorizing the United States on multiple occasions after the killings of their leaders disproves this "adaptability." The fact that they have failed multiple attempted bombings on the United States after their leaders’ deaths shows not only that they are becoming sloppy and disorganized, but these leaders are not very easy to come by. Audrey also claims that "even if Al-Qaeda has become less lethal and efficient, its public relations campaigns still allow it to reach potential supporters, threaten potential victims, and project strength." This is true, but only to some degree. Al-Qaeda may be capable of using our drone strikes to sympathize with its civilians and recruit more people, but do we care? With us constantly at bay, they cannot even function, which she states on her own.
Al-Qaeda members are terrified of leaving the safety of their homes during day light, and even at night they are easily detected thanks to the drones’ capability to see regardless of how cloudy or dark it may be outdoors. Al-Qaeda has failed over and over again to successfully strike after the use of drones started. Audrey Cronin is correct; these drone strikes may lead to the reach of more potential supporters to the Al-Qaeda, but the United States could not care less whether or not they have supporters because the fact of the matter is that they are incapable of retaliating or striking the United States on a large scale, or in some cases even a small scale.
Others who oppose the use of drone strikes often claim that they cause too much blow-back to the United States for the drones to be worthy of use. What blow-back is, is basically the negative consequences that come with using something in which its' ultimate goal is a positive outcome. In the case of drone strikes, blow-back is the possibility of membership recruitment to Al-Qaeda in result of resentment to the United States which comes from any accidental civilian casualties caused by our drone strikes. If ordinary civilians are upset with the United States because of the drone strikes, they may be more likely to sympathize with Al-Qaeda and join them in the force against us. What makes blow-back a strong argument is the fact that it cannot be disproved because there is no proof leading to the conclusion that drones have never caused a single case of blow-back, because we don't know the motives of every single Al-Qaeda member in existence. If one were to claim that too much blow-back is why drones should not be used, their argument would be hard to disprove, but it would not be a very strong one. Even in cases where blow-back has been proven, which there are very few, they do not in any way outweigh the good that comes from drone strikes. Since the tragic incidents of 9/11, there has not been a single successful large scale attack on the United States, although it could be argued that their motives in failed attempts were due to our drone strikes. But, that is all there has been since the use of drones began: failed attempts. The small negative effects that are a result of "blow-back” come nowhere near close to outweighing the morality, effectiveness, and efficiency of the drone strikes that they have proven to contain thus far.
Since it is now clear that drones do their job the way that they were intended to, morally and effectively, one must now consider the legal controversy behind these said strikes. In her article “The United States use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (il)legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law,” Milena Sterio dissects the basis of what laws apply in certain cases, and states that different laws are in effect depending on whether or not one accepts that the United States is in a true war or armed conflict. It can be argued that instead of a true war, the United States is only chasing terrorists around the world to scare them, however, there is substantial evidence leading to the conclusion that the United States is at a true war with Al-Qaeda.
The fact of the matter is, the United States declared a global war on terror, and under this approach, the government believes that “the war has no geographic constraints, and the battlefield was of a global nature.” Since the United States is at war with terrorism, and in an armed conflict with Al-Qaeda and all of its affiliates, the rules of jus ad bellum and jus in bello apply under the Laws of Conflict and War. Under the assumption that the United States is at war with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which we have proven to be on multiple occasions, the Drone strikes carried out are completely legal as long as long as they follow the guidelines of the Laws of War.
A large portion of the controversy in drone strikes lies in the United States’ targeted killings of well-known terrorists. But, as Milena states in her article, “laws of war permit targeted killings if two particular requirements of jus ad bellum are satisfied: the use of force is necessary and the use of force is proportionate.” A state that resorts to force first has to prove that its decision is a result of an armed attack from the state that it is attacking. In the United States’ case, this was proven on multiple occasions including 9/11 itself, which triggered the declaration of war.
It can very possibly be argued that the United States does not have the right to use self-defense because of the fact that Al-Qaeda has not launched a full scale military offensive on the US. To counter this argument, there are very few people that would believe the 9/11 attacks were not “full scale.” Arguments can also be made that since Al-Qaeda is not a state, the United States right to self-defense was not triggered because they were not attacked by another state. Although in Milena’sarticle, she shares with us that commentators have argued “that the use of force in self-defense against a non-state actor should be permissible ‘in an era where non-state group project military-scale power’.” It would be unwise to see the 9/11 attacks as not “full military scale” due to the +3,000 deaths that resulted from them, and the fact that the Al-Qaeda is in possession of firearms power that equals that of other actual states. This is proven in raids and capturing of Al-Qaeda members, and also their numerous consistent attempts on both successful and failed attacks against the United States.
Not only must the United States prove that its decision to attack is a result of an armed attack, but it must also prove that its use of force is proportionate to its objective. In the case of Drone Strikes, since they are in fact being used in self-defense, they are also being used proportionately. Many people blindly argue that because the drones themselves do cause civilian casualties, they are illegal; this is false. The Laws of War in fact do not forbid civilian casualties. Rather, as it is stated in Milena’s article, targeting decisions “must avoid civilian casualties that are excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.” The entire goal of the Drone Program was to minimize the amount of civilian casualties, and it has continuously proven to do so since the beginning of its use by the United States.
The majority of the legal controversy in Drone Warfare stems off of the CIA’s involvement in the program. Due to its secrecy, it is completely impossible to distinguish whether or not the CIA members are following the Laws of War, or satisfying jus ad bellum or jus in bello. Since the drone strikes that have been carried out by the United States military have proven to be ethical, moral, effective, and following the Laws of War, if the United States were to cut out the CIA’s involvement in the program and only use the military, there would be a very large amount of controversy taken out of the debate, and the Drone Program would be nearly untouchable in legal terms, while already being proven to be the most moral form of force used by the United States. The government solely wants its citizens and American people to be safe and sound. The United States’ Drone Program is greatly contributing to this goal.