Robot politics: the concept that leads to quite a few questions. Are we setting a dangerous precedent with an irreversible approach to war? Are civilians safe? What, in the end, will Obama’s legacy be? So much about drones is showing up in the media of late, yet so many people in the West are simply unaware of their use in modern warfare. Never mind addressing the ethical challenge and the moral questions facing the American presidency that gives the green light for individual targets, people don’t seem to care. As is often the case with war, questions will come later.
The War on Terror changed a lot of things. Since the invasion of Afghanistan that was conducted under the recognized principle of self-defense and the U.S. congress-approved invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. has been bending the rules of war. They have violated the Geneva Convention with harsh interrogation methods used in prisons such as Guantanamo and Bagram.
The superpower has also been exploring unprecedented methods of war-making. This is the subject of interest. The ways in which the new technology of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) breaches sovereignty without declaring open war should be studied carefully. The country is setting quite a precedent for the use of technology in conflict zones. Russia and China are already contemplating building and using the same technology themselves. So the United States has put itself in a costly position, having in a way destabilized world order by starting this seemingly never ending War on Terror. It’s a battle of states against individuals and it has no borders. Today the country is rather frantic in its urge to find solutions to combat the enemy. Breaching the sovereignty of another state is becoming easier. The most recent solution the U.S. has found is at last being noticed by the mass-media more regularly: we are seeing an increased use of drones. One of the main hunting grounds is Yemen. As reported in The Long War Journal on November 8th, just a few days into November we saw an Al Qaeda commander successfully targeted near the capital. This is an expansion of the territory covered by the drones who traditionally have been keeping to the south of the country.
On another point, the buzz of the drones and the fear of a strike are unbearable things to some people. According to Ms. Knuckey, from N.Y.U and James Cavallaro and Stephen Sonnenberg of Stanford, “Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.” Civilian populations suffer much anxiety due to the uncertainty of where and when the drones will strike next. A full report on this can be found on http://livingunderdrones.org. Specifically in Pakistan’s tribal areas, over 1900 people have been killed by UAVs since 2006 and civilian casualties continue to rise.
Certainly, the strategy is irreversible. Drones have become an important tool and they’re cheaper than men. Boots on the ground are too great an expense today, and it’s no longer popular to send your country’s men into a war zone. Today’s democratic leaders will not be re-elected for sending their countries’ sons and daughters into battle. When the drone program started in the United States, only 50 roamed the skies – the number is now closer to 7000. With the use of this new, unmanned war-maker, precedents have been set. Perhaps other countries (apart from the United States) with different heads of state, will take less care in making the “hard decisions” on which individuals to target and take down – a complicated issue in itself.
What is clear today, however, is that the nature of war has changed, and much of the weight regarding this issue rests on the shoulders of the American president, having set the precedent for the use of drones. When he does leave office, will he have left any greater legacy? The American military is working outside of any written conventions. A state’s sovereignty is no longer an absolute and is often violated. The rules of the game are changing, and perhaps its time to define the new limits in the art of modern war.
– Mathieu Paul Dumont