Drone Strikes Expanded

The previous post raised the issue of US drone strikes, and I wanted to offer a more complete post rather than just a comment.

The US use of predator drones is a topic which has caught my interest for quite some time now. While their use is intended to be used delicately and deliberately, there are many assertions from independent sources that these strikes are not as precise as the military’s narrative suggests. The military acknowledges the possibility of civilian casualties, but they regularly (and from their perspective, understandably) downplay the size of the issue. Since it is inherently difficult to get exact figures, there are only varied estimates of the civilian death count. However, this independent journalism group gives what they believe to be the true statistics on the issue. If one tallies only the conservative estimates, it results in around ~450 confirmed strikes throughout Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with a death toll of around 2,600. Of these 2,600, at least 446 are civilians, and a minimum of 175 being children.

When analyzing the burden of responsibility, it is important to understand a few factors at play in each individual drone strike. While a large team is required to run and service a predator drone, in the end there is a kill order that comes from the upper echelon of the CIA or Air Force, and then there is a single pilot that executes this order. These pilots often report being indoctrinated into the culture by being promised that they will never be faced with killing innocents. However, when it comes time to execute an order, the pilot is often aware that he/she will be taking the lives of civilians or children. While this weighs heavily on their mind afterwards, more often than not they make the decision to follow through in the moment.

Based on this information, it would seem that current US drone policy needs revised if it wants to be held to any ethical standard. Statistically speaking, for every confirmed strike there is at least one death of an innocent, and roughly half of which have resulted in the death of a child. While some of the more extreme proponents of the strikes argue that these innocent casualties are, in a sense, “guilty by association” because they live in close ties with known terrorists, this characterization lacks prospective. Hypothetically, if you are a child who lives in a rural tribal village in Pakistan, and your entire family is in poverty and lives in one house or compound, how are you expected to have the means to separate yourself from your “terrorist uncle”? However, he may very well be the target of a strike, which could have an immense impact on your entire family or even cause you to lose your life.

While Predator drones have a place in modern military operations, their use thus far has been non-transparent and much messier than promised. I personally feel that their current standard procedure is wholly unethical and needs revised. Anyone who has an HBO account and wishes to know more of the effects of these strikes on the people of Pakistan can watch this episode from season 2 of Vice.  What do others think of the ethics surrounding this issue?

2 Responses to Drone Strikes Expanded

  1. I think it pretty clear the actions the U.S. military is taking with using these drones is unethical. I am going to make an ethical evaluation from a morals rights perspective on this subject. Firstly, everyone deserves and should be guaranteed the right to life. These drone strikes are completely taking away this right to individuals, whether they are a terrorist or not. In my opinion, it doe not matter if the individual is an evil terrorist who has done terrible things. Their right to life should be respected, and these drone strikes are disregarding that. Not to mention these drone strikes are taking away innocent peoples’, childrens’, and civilians’ right to life, which raises the bar even more on how unethical these actions actually are.

    Secondly, I believe everyone has the right to happiness. It can be argued that the pilots who make the ultimate decision on whether to go through with the strikes are very unhappy. The thought that their decision to launch the strike could/will kill innocent people can be very plaguing and even unhealthy on the mind. It seems as if the pilots have almost no say in the matter either, because of their indoctrinated mindset and pressure from higher-ups. This would seem to definitely cause stress and thus reduce happiness.

    Therefore, from a moral rights standpoint, I fully believe these drone strikes are completely unethical because they ignore the right to life and happiness.

  2. I would recommend separating entirely the ethics of US involvement in other countries and the conflicts involved to the act of drone strikes, because war is inevitably a major ethical issue in it’s own. When talking about civilian casualties, it should be noted that this is the norm in wars. Few major conflicts, especially on the scale of the War in Afghanistan, have entirely lack civilian casualties. Not only that, but until the past century or so, never has it been common to actively reduce the amount of civilian casualties in war. So, the ethics of war is a whole other question, with nearly unlimited factors, and I would argue it is a nearly impossible ethical question to argue whether or not war is right or wrong. The major reason is that war influences history and the development of society so strongly, along with introducing foreign cultures to each other, that it cannot be determined what future would have been held if the concept of war was abolished from the start.

    The use of drone strikes have been significant in the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with involvement in various other countries. This smaller scale conflicts are ones where typically the only troops physically on the ground are our Special Operating Forces and Special Forces troops. They are, of no doubt, a major strategic importance for the United States Military. The majority of drones are not used simply for killing, rather for reconnaissance as well. When I was in the Army, my MOS, or job, was a 19D Cavalry Scout. We are trained to be reconnaissance experts, however our job has arguably been largely replaced for the use of drones. The usage of drones significantly reduces the need of US Soldiers and Marines on the ground, although it doesn’t replace the need entirely. In my job particularly, the use of drones contributes to a shift in our role from being the sole reconnaissance asset to more of an infantry asset.

    If you were to look at the morality of drones, I would recommend separating your views on the morality of the War in Afghanistan and other US conflicts. Look at drones individually, as a tool of warfare. Look at the value they place, and whether or not you agree with our military, look at how strong of an asset they are to any military. With such a divisive topic as the motives, politics, and ethics of our military, there stems a lot of major misconceptions on how it functions. It is worth noting that the majority of our population is ignorant on what the military truly is like, and how technology, such as drones, serves a major role outside of just simply killing civilians.