Pro & Con Quotes: Should the United States Continue Its Use of Drone Strikes Abroad?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Dan Sabbagh, Defence and Security Editor for The Guardian, stated:
“The vast majority of the many thousands of military drones are used for surveillance, and defence experts predict that will continue. Analysts at information group Jane’s estimate that more than 80,000 surveillance drones and almost 2,000 attack drones will be purchased around the world in the next 10 years.
Weaponised drones are not cheap: experts say the starting price for the technology is about $15m (£12m) per unit, with more for add-ons, on top of the training and the crews needed to pilot them…
The first phase of drone warfare was dominated by three countries: the US, the UK and Israel. The US and UK rely on Predator and latterly Reaper drones made by General Atomics, a Californian company owned by billionaire brothers Neal and Linden Blue. Israel develops its own technology.
Drones rapidly proliferated in a second wave over the past five years, with Pakistan and Turkey developing their own programmes. Since 2016, Turkey has used drones heavily, against the separatist Kurdish PKK in its own country, in northern Iraq and more recently against Kurdish groups in Syria.
China, meanwhile, has begun supplying a range of countries with its Wing Loong and CH series drones, including to the UAE – where they have been used in a string of deadly strikes in Libya – as well as Egypt Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, although not every country has been able to deploy what it has bought.
Iran was blamed for an attack on Saudi oil installations in September believed to have involved drones as well as missiles. Proliferation is expected to continue, not least because Russia and India are running behind.”-
Dan Sabbagh, “Killer Drones: How Many Are There and Who Do They Target?,” theguardian.com, Nov. 18, 2019
Washington Post Editorial Board, stated
“Mistakenly dropping bombs on noncombatants is abhorrent and counterproductive, and feeds anti-U.S. propaganda…. Yet collateral damage is sometimes unavoidable, particularly in a conflict in which the United States confronts a deadly enemy dispersed among civilian populations.
Transparency about drone policy assures U.S. citizens and allies that the country is employing this deadly technology with all due care. But it is also essential to avoid tying military and CIA operators’ hands too tightly as they pursue would-be terrorists….
Like any rapidly advancing technology of war, drone power deserves close scrutiny and rules tailored to its unique attributes. Drones are an inexpensive and low-footprint means of eliminating militants seeking to kill Americans. They have helped the United States strike at several generations of terrorist leaders and keep others on the run. Though the horrifying 2021 Kabul strike illustrated drones’ potential to maim the innocent, the approaching 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should remind Americans of drones’ potential to protect and defend, too.”-
Washington Post Editorial Board, “Biden Offers Smart Rules of Engagement for the Drone War,” washingtonpost.com, June 27, 2023
Amnesty International stated:
“While Amnesty International does not oppose the use of armed drones, it has consistently called on the USA to ensure that the use of armed drones complies with its obligations under international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In its 2013 report on drone strikes in Pakistan, Amnesty International concluded that the USA had, by justifying the so-called targeted killing of individuals or groups suspected of involvement in any kind of terrorism against the USA, adopted a radical re-interpretation of the concept of “imminence” under the purported right of self-defence, in violation of international human rights law.
In particular, by permitting the intentional use of lethal force outside recognised conflict zones and in a manner incompatible with applicable human rights standards, the USA’s policies and practices regarding the use of drones violate the right to life. Furthermore, drone strikes carried out by the USA outside conflict zones against persons who were not posing an imminent threat to life may constitute extrajudicial executions. There have also been drone strikes in armed conflict situations that appear to have unlawfully killed civilians as they were carried out in a manner that failed to take adequate precautions or otherwise violated international humanitarian law.
President Trump’s reported dismantling of the limited restrictions imposed by the Obama administration on the US drone programme therefore increases the risk of civilian casualties and unlawful killings.”-
Amnesty International, “Deadly Assistance: The Role of European States in US Drone Strikes,” amnesty.org, 2018
Brian Finlay, President and CEO of the Stimson Center, stated:
“Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, continue to shape how, when, and where the United States conducts military and counterterrorism operations around the world. Yet U.S. use of armed drones remains controversial, in large part because of ongoing secrecy surrounding the use of lethal drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields and the resulting lack of accountability that often goes hand in hand with the absence of transparency. Currently, the U.S. drone program rests on indistinct frameworks and an approach to drone strikes based on U.S. exceptionalism. Ambiguity surrounding U.S. drone policy has contributed to enduring questions about the legality, efficacy, and legitimacy of the U.S. drone program. And the drone debate continues in the Trump administration…
Given these and related concerns, such as the rapid spread of drone technology for military and national security purposes around the world, it is important that the United States develop a drone policy that is both practical and comprehensive, and that sets a constructive international precedent for future drone use worldwide.”-
Brian Finlay, President and CEO of the Stimson Center, “An Action Plan on U.S. Drone Policy,” stimson.org, June 2018
Michael V. Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), stated:
“TARGETED killing using drones has become part of the American way of war…
The program is not perfect. No military program is. But here is the bottom line: It works. I think it fair to say that the targeted killing program has been the most precise and effective application of firepower in the history of armed conflict. It disrupted terrorist plots and reduced the original Qaeda organization along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to a shell of its former self…
For my part, the United States needs not only to maintain this capacity, but also to be willing to use it. Radical Islamism thrives in many corners of the world — Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Mali, the list goes on — where governments cannot or will not act. In some of these instances, the United States must.
And unmanned aerial vehicles carrying precision weapons and guided by powerful intelligence offer a proportional and discriminating response when response is necessary. Civilians have died, but in my firm opinion, the death toll from terrorist attacks would have been much higher if we had not taken action.”-
Michael V. Hayden, “To Keep America Safe, Embrace Drone Warfare,” nytimes.com, Feb. 19, 2016
Patrick B. Johnston, political scientist at the RAND Corporation, and Anoop K. Sarbahi, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, stated:
“We find that drone strikes are associated with decreases in the incidence and lethality of terrorist attacks, as well as decreases in selective targeting of tribal elders… drone strikes, while unpopular, bolster US counterterrorism…
[O]ur findings provide key support for the hypothesis that new technologies – specifically, remote means of surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting – prove capable of disrupting and degrading militant organizations. In doing so, such technologies limit both the frequency and the lethality of militant attacks.”-
Patrick B. Johnston and Anoop K. Sarbahi, “The Impact of US Drone Strikes on Terrorism in Pakistan,” International Studies Quarterly, academic.oup.com, Jan. 4, 2016
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, stated:
“[T]he United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones…
To begin with, our actions are effective. Don’t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote, ‘We could lose the reserves to enemy’s air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives…’ Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives…
Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. And even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists; our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose; our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty.
Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes. So doing nothing is not an option.”-
Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at the National Defense University,” obamawhitehouse.archives.gov, May 23, 2013
James E. Cartwright, Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated:
“Advances in high band-width satellite communications, sensing technologies – particularly full motion video – combined with existing aircraft technology has allowed armed drones to emerge as the platform of choice in this counter terror mission space. In military operations, these drones are highly capable and sought after by ground forces. They cost roughly $4-5M versus a modern fighter’s $150M. They persist on station for 15-20 hours without refueling, versus 1-2 hours for fighter attack aircraft. They consume 100 gallons of fuel per flight versus 1,000-3,000 gallons for an unrefueled fighter attack aircraft. Their optics provides full motion imagery at far greater distances and altitudes than the human eye, and the crews are not distracted or disabled by the constant duties of flight. Their sensor information can be distributed to fixed and mobile users in real time.
Drones offer many advantages over other conventional forces in counter terrorism missions. Basing can be located far from the area of interest without sacrificing time on station. They have far greater mobility than a similar ground or naval capability. Their elevated sensors are generally more effective in locating and pursuing a threat. They can persist in an area for extended periods of time awaiting emergence or a clear opportunity. They can quickly adapt to fixed and mobile targets. These and many other attributes of armed drones make them the leading choice in counter terrorism operations.”-
James E. Cartwright, “Constitutional and Counter Terrorism Implications of Targeted Killing,” csis.org, Mar. 24, 2013
Maha Hilal, founding executive director of the Muslim Counterpublics Lab, stated:
“[D]rone technology has rendered those in distant lands so much more disposable in the name of American national security. This is because such long-range techno-targeting has created a profound level of dehumanization that, ironically enough, has only made the repeated act of long-distance killing, of (not to mince words) slaughter, remarkably banal.
In these years of the war on terror, the legalities of drone warfare coupled with the way its technology capitalizes on an unfortunate aspect of human psychology has made the dehumanization of Muslims (and so violence against them) that much easier to carry out. It’s made their drone killing so much more of a given because it’s taken for granted that Muslims in ‘target sites’ or conflict zones must be terrorists whose removal should be beyond questioning—even after a posthumous determination of their civilian status….
We should all reject a war on terror committed to the disposability of Muslims because no one (including Muslims) should have to mourn the killing of civilians the United States has targeted for far too long. Muslim lives have inherent value and their deaths are worth grieving, mourning, and above all valuing. Drone warfare will never change that fact.”-
Maha Hilal, “As Long as We Use Drones, Celebrating ‘American Values’ Is a Farce,” thenation.com, Sep. 12, 2023
Drone Wars stated:
“The reality is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed accurate airstrike While laser-guided weapons are without doubt much more accurate than they were even 20 or 30 years ago, the myth of guaranteed precision is just that, a myth. Even under test conditions, only 50% of weapons are expected to hit within their ‘circular error of probability’. Once the blast radius of weapons is taken into account and indeed how such systems can be affected by things such as the weather, it is clear that ‘precision’ cannot by any means be assured…
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the rise of remote, drone warfare is that it is ushering in a state of permanent/forever war. With no (or very few) troops deployed on the ground and when air strikes can be carried out with impunity by drone operators who then commute home at the end of the day, there is little public or political pressure to bring interventions to an end.”-
Drone Wars, “The Danger of Drones,” dronewars.net (accessed Oct. 21, 2020)
Omar Suleiman, founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, stated:
“Now that [George] Floyd’s murder has forced a national conversation about policing within our country’s borders, it’s time the American public begins to reckon with the victims of our foreign policy abroad. Since waging the war on Iraq, how many Americans can name a single one of the approximately 200,000 civilian casualties of that war? Even when exposed to the gross images of torture at Abu Ghraib at the hands of members of the U.S. military, the victims’ faces remained blurred and their names unknown…
For years, researchers have logged the details of America’s opaque drone war, a fulcrum of the war on terror that is a signature part of President Barack Obama’s legacy, now continued by Trump. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that up to 17,000 people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, while Airwars has tracked reports of nearly 30,000 civilians being killed by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria…
Despite these efforts, there has been an overall paucity in news coverage of the drone war, and specifically of the stories of those killed by drone operators pushing buttons from thousands of miles away: a combination of public apathy and efforts by the federal government to shield the drone program from public view…
We cannot make our government accountable for the victims of state violence if there is no transparency into its actions. We also cannot generate the moral outrage necessary to usher in change if we don’t consider the humanity of our victims.”-
Omar Suleiman, “America’s Problem with Policing Doesn’t Stop at the U.S. Border,” theintercept.com, July 21, 2020
Pauline Muchina, Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator for the Africa Region, and Mike Merryman-Lotze, Palestine-Israel Program Director, both of the American Friends Service Committee, stated:
“For years, the American Friends Service Committee has joined other organizations in calling for a ban on drone warfare. The United States’ use of lethal drones has killed thousands of people – including hundreds of children – and displaced countless others. Instead of making the U.S. safer, drones have undermined efforts to end conflict and build stability and viable economies in countries around the world.
Since the start of the U.S. ‘war on terror’ in 2001, drone warfare has grown as U.S. military operations have expanded beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. A significant portion of U.S. military actions outside of Afghanistan and Iraq – including Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya – are carried out with drones…
Our staff have documented how these attacks have displaced communities – as people flee after strikes – and caused immense human suffering in a country that already faces one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. And while the U.S. justifies drone strikes as a response to Al-Shabaab, these actions often have the opposite effect – driving affected community members to support the very groups the U.S. is targeting.”-
Pauline Muchina and Mike Merryman-Lotze, “The U.S. Has Killed Thousands of People with Lethal Drones – It’s Time To Put a Stop to It,” afsc.org, May 16, 2019
Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations (UN), stated:
“[W]hen counterterrorism efforts neglect the rule of law at the national and international levels and violate international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, and fundamental freedoms, they not only betray the values they seek to uphold, but they can also fuel violent extremism…
Pakistan has repeatedly emphasized this aspect in the context of the use of drone strikes that violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of States, seriously undermining the fundamental rights of innocent victims and further fuelling terrorism and violent extremism. We strongly condemn these unlawful measures and demand their immediate cessation. The continuation of these drone strikes reflects a blatant disregard for our unequivocal and existing commitments on the use of remotely piloted aircraft, as set forth in the resolution on the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.”-
Maleeha Lodhi, “A/70/PV.110,” documents.un.org/prod/ods.nsf/home.xsp, July 1, 2016
Ann Wright, former Army Reserves Colonel and former U.S. diplomat, stated:
“[T]he president of the United States [Barack Obama] is using [drones] as kind of his personal assassination tool.
He has become the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner of people around the world, who the United States intelligence agencies have identified as people who are doing something that is against U.S. interests. And we certainly know that our intelligence community is not infallible, and they’ve made lots of mistakes.
We also know for a fact that the drone program kills lots and lots and lots of people who are no threat to the United States…
I would say, as a military officer with 29 years’ experience, and a U.S. diplomat, that we have a weapons system that is causing blowback to the interests of the United States. Using the assassin program is making the United States more insecure rather than secure. That it is harming our national security, not enhancing it. And that we should stop this drone program. And he, as president of the United States, should stop being the sign-off person on this, because, in my opinion, it’s illegal and he could be put up on war crimes charges.”-
Dennis J. Bernstein, “Calling out Drone War as a War Crime,” Consortium News, June 8, 2016
Khuram Iqbal, assistant professor in the Department of Peace & Conflict Studies at National Defence University in Pakistan, stated:
“As far as US drone strikes in Pakistan are concerned, they are tactically successful but strategically counterproductive. No doubt, these drone strikes have managed to kill high-profile terrorist leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. But look at the cost. If you look at the official figures collected by independent researchers, attempts to kill 41 militant commanders have resulted in the deaths of estimated 1,200 people. It means that for each militant commander the US has killed more than 30 civilians. So again collateral damage on such a high scale does not bode well for Pakistan’s national counter-terrorism policy that seeks to win over the population in conflict regions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)…
[T]errorist groups in Pakistan are fighting with an anti-American agenda. They justify their violence against the Pakistani state and society as result of Islamabad’s support for the US occupation of Afghanistan. So to undo this perception, the US must stop the drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan and let the Pakistani state deal with these terrorist organizations with all its indigenous resources.”-
RT, “Strong Link Between US Drone Strikes and Rise of Suicide Terrorism in Pakistan,” rt.com, Apr. 28, 2015
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