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The Strategic Context of Lethal Drones

The Strategic Context of Lethal Drones

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This American Security Project report creates a framework for discussing America’s use of lethal drone strikes in a strategic context.

The U.S. government has used lethal drone strikes since the passage of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, but recently their use has expanded at an unprecedented rate – underscoring the importance of understanding drones as tools in a larger framework.

Yet, most of the discourse to date about the merits of drones has focused on moral, legal, and tactical considerations, rather than on strategy. Strategy is at the very heart of how effectively lethal drone strikes interact with America’s national security.

This paper presents a factual, apolitical discussion about drone programs and their role in US counterterrorism strategy.
This American Security Project report creates a framework for discussing America’s use of lethal drone strikes in a strategic context.

The U.S. government has used lethal drone strikes since the passage of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, but recently their use has expanded at an unprecedented rate – underscoring the importance of understanding drones as tools in a larger framework.

Yet, most of the discourse to date about the merits of drones has focused on moral, legal, and tactical considerations, rather than on strategy. Strategy is at the very heart of how effectively lethal drone strikes interact with America’s national security.

This paper presents a factual, apolitical discussion about drone programs and their role in US counterterrorism strategy.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: The American Security Project on Aug 13, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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www.AmericanSecurityProject.org1100 New York Avenue, NW Suite 710W Washington, DC
Te Strategic Contextof Lethal Drones
A framework for discussion
Joshua Foust and Ashley S. Boyle
 August 16 , 2012
Introduction
Te use o drones to conduct lethalstrikes to disrupt and deeat terroristgroups worldwide has been at the centero a growing national debate.Te U.S. government has used lethaldrone strikes since the passage o the 2001 Authorization or the Use o Military Force,
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but recently their use has expandedat an unprecedented rate – underscoring the importance o understanding dronesas tools in a larger ramework.o date, the national discussion aboutdrone programs has ocused on how targets are selected,
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the morality o signature strikes,
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 the Presidential use o power,
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and the identity o “victims.”
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However, this discussion doesnot always rely on established acts about current drone operations, including how dronesunction as weapons platorms, their overall role within US counterterrorism strategy, andthe empirical data that currently exist about the eects o their use as lethal orce.Tis paper will objectively examine US lethal drone policy as it is currently implemented while contextualizing it in terms o national security and the global struggle against violentextremism.In the interest o objectivity, this paper will not directly address the moral and politicalarguments about the proper use o targeted killings. We are not evaluating the moral value o targeted killings or drones; the ways these tacticsdo or do not t into US law; or whether it is “right” or a President to singularly controla targeted killing program. Similarly, while the technical (and industry-preerred term) or
 
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 AMERICAN SECURIY PROJEC
these aircrat is “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” we have chosen to use the colloquial term “drone” in the interesto readability.Tis paper is not intended to be polemic or or against drones; rather, we are interested in the way in whichdrones are employed as viewed rom a US national security strategy perspective.
Basic Data about drones
Program Descriptions 
 Te Obama Administration has not ocially stated where and how it employs lethal drone strikes. While thePresident has ocially acknowledged that covert strikes do occur in places such as Yemen and Somalia,
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thereare no specics about the extent o the programs and precise deployment o drones or lethal strikes.Drones are employed dierently depending on the target environment.In a declared combat zone, such as Aghanistan,
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there are clearly dened rules o engagement and chains o command or theexecution o lethal drone strikes.
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Outsideo declared combat zones, however, there areew data about how drone strikes are decidedand conducted, apart rom anonymous leaksby US ocials.In Yemen, or example, there are indicationsthat the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command operateindividual “kill lists,” and each commandsa separate drone feet.
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In Pakistan, dronestrikes are an open secret acknowledgedeven by the President,
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but the precise rulesgoverning their use remain murky.
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Tis ocial secrecy, coupled with leaks about the nature o drone programs, makes drawing conclusions abouttheir overall use and eectiveness extremely dicult.
International Law 
 Criticisms o US drone programs requently center on questions o legality. Despite claiming the strikes arelegally permissible, Administration ocials have not yet directly cited any law in justiying the use o dronesin extraterritorial targeted killings.
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 Critics argue that this ailure to provide legal justication implicates the US in violating international legalrameworks on interstate orce and national sovereignty.
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Furthermore, critics claim that US drone programsin Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen set a dangerous precedent that could lead to any nation with strike-capabledrones employing similar tactics in a “global drone war.
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 While laws governing the use o interstate orce bar the use o orce in another nations territory during times o peace, under Article 51 o the United Nations Charter, a state has “the inherent right o individual or collectivesel-deence [sic]” until the UN Security Council takes action.
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Te UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has armed that Article 51 applies i 
either 
the targeted state agrees to the use o orce in its territory by another nation,
or 
the targeted state or a group operating within its territory, was responsible or an act o aggressionagainst the targeting state.
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Only one o these conditions must be satised to justiy a unilateral extraterritorial use o orce by a UN Member. In the cases o Pakistan,
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Somalia,
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and Yemen,
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both conditions are satised:all three countries have consented, explicitly or otherwise, to the US operating drones within theirterritories, and all three are “sae havens” or groups that have launched violent attacks against the USand US interests.Tereore, while the US does not explicitly invoke Article 51, it is operating within itsbounds under the international ramework established by the UN – making any legal argument against drone programschallenging.In Aghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the US wasalready engaged in combat operations. Telegal questions regarding the use o lethaldrones do not apply to these conficts.
Cost Analysis 
 Some critics have argued that drones are actually more expensive to purchase and operate than pilotedaircrat,
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because they require extensive ground crews, are maintenance-intensive, and prone torequent “mishaps,” ocial parlance or “crashes.” However, an analysis o acquisition and operating costs does not bear out such an argument.From a high-level examination, drones are slightly more cost eective to acquire and operate thanconventional manned aircrat. So the real question o cost eectiveness should instead be one o operational advantage: whether the strategic advantage and human protection aorded by the use o drones in overseas operations outweighs the potential security threat posed by higher crash rates andgrowing backlash in target environments.In able 1, below, we compare basic unit acquisition and operating costs compiled rom unclassiedDepartment o Deense Selected Acquisition Reports.
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  We have included as much inormation can reasonably be ound through public sources; the data arenot identical or all weapons platorms, however.Te F-15, or example, is no longer manuactured so its acquisition cost is not relevant in comparisons,but is included here or valuations o mishaps.For new platorms like the MQ-9 Reaper, the cost data include everything rom personnel-related costs, uel, training munitions, temporary duty costs, sustaining engineering and programmanagement, system specic training, and “indirect support” (which is not dened but may includebasing).

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