The Search for Antiseptic War
Eve at the
technical level, condence indrones may be misplaced. After all, they are
only as accurate as the individuals who direct
them. Technical intelligence gathering capabili
ties have exploded in recent years while humanintelligence capacity has declined. Investing inregional and country experts who understandthe situation and actors in the eld has danger
ously lagged. Such experts are essential to siftmassive amounts of information and to pro
vide a qualitative analysis of the situation onthe ground. Drone technology lures decision-makers with the promise of an inexpensive,antiseptic means to counter extremists orinsurgents. But the condence in technology ismisplaced. The results are short-term, incom
plete and may be counter-productive. Thor
ough discussion of effectiveness in its broadercontext has been largely missing.
A sec maj
concern is that of moral haz
ard. U.S. Administration and Congressional
discussions of drones to date have revolved
around three legal issues: 1) expansion of thejoint Congressional resolution, “Authoriza
tion for Use of Military Force” (AUMF); 2)authority to determine kill targets; and 3) U.S.terrorists killed overseas in drone strikes. The AUMF, passed just days after the September11th attacks, provided the legal basis for theU.S. counterterrorism campaign against Al-Qa
eda wherever it operated. Federal court deci
sions expanded the authority to justify attackson groups associated with Al Qaeda. The issuenow is whether AUMF language needs to beexpanded further to justify the inclusion of groups in Libya, Mali, Nigeria and elsewherethat have no direct link to Al-Qaeda and the9/11 attacks or if completely new authoriza
tion must be obtained.
The sec ebate
focuses on President
Obama’s authority to approve a kill list. Oppo
nents argue that an independent judicial body should have that authority; not the president. The third concerns the legality of killing a ter
rorist who is a U.S. citizen either at home orabroad without due process. An old-fashionedlibuster by Senator Rand Paul on March 6-7,2013 sought assurance from the Administra
tion that a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil would notbe subject to a drone strike. That Senator Paulgot so much positive attention for his effortreects an awakened awareness of the potentialrisks of drones to U.S. citizens. These are im
portant issues that merit careful examination.
Hweve, e f
them reects any concernabout the people in other countries targeted by drones – some of whom may be falsely iden
tied as terrorists or insurgents.
Moreover,the most publicized discussions to date fail to wrestle with the underlying moral hazard of killing from a distance; of never experiencing the human and material suffering wrought.
This is not a new phenomenon – ghter pi
lots, for example, y far above and never seethe faces of those killed. But they are in thetheatre of combat and therefore, vulnerable tobeing shot down. A drone controller is a giantstep removed from combat. He or she goeshome after a “normal” work day. The entireexercise is more akin to playing a violent videogame than it is to real life: easy, antiseptic, andno risk for Americans. The victim, his family,friends and their suffering remain abstract.
Equally important, actual strikesrestrict damage; thereby signif-cantly reducing non-combatantcasualties – a vast improvementover more traditional weapons.