The US drone program buzzes its unmanned aircraft over distant lands, frightening the public, because they are not sure whether the alien vehicle will merely fly over them or drop bombs to annihilate them. Many in the US, from across the political divide, agree that drones are a dream weapon that provide a “cleaner” way to do war, by pursuing American interests without risking military lives. However, one should remember the words of John F. Kennedy, “there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.”

There are certainly costs to using drones, including logistical failures that have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and America’s staunchest rival, Iran, now possessing a downed drone. Further, the over-usage of the drones in international relations shows that it is a case of the weapon inspiring the war, not the war inspiring the weapon. Finally, the domestic effect of the drone program is that it violates the constitutional checks and balances placed on the president and CIA’s power by Congress.

With a constant bombardment and surveillance operation led by the drones, the US has eliminated several high level terrorist leaders. Despite all the logistical successes of the program, there have certainly been some blunders that were inevitable in using remote technology to kill human targets. As such, there have been countless botched drone missions in Pakistan and Afghanistan that have led to the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent civilians.

While some may discount these deaths as unavoidable collateral damage, one should think of the operational mistakes being made in the over-use of drones. By using an unmanned vehicle, the US will engage targets that they would otherwise avoid sending ground forces to attack. Thus, the US uses force more freely and takes action even when they lack the amount of credible information needed to put American lives at risk. This means that while the drones might protect American lives, they put the lives of civilians living in war zones at greater risk of destruction due to faulty or negligible intelligence.

Another issue is the hazard that more countries will acquire drone technology, which will all but guarantee an increase in hostilities across the globe. Most nations wish to posses a technology that could allow them to wage a seemingly “cost-free war”, and this is especially true for America’s adversaries like China or Iran. The recent downed drone that Iran has recovered is just one of the many inevitable instances where other nations will attempt to harness this technology, and perhaps use it against the US in the future.

What is far more devastating to the future of the US than the logistical failures of the drone program is the way in which it is affecting the nation’s foreign policy. Under current international law, there are no rules in place for the use of drones. However, the international community, through major documents like the UN Charter, prohibits the use of force against nations one has not declared an enemy.  For the drone operations in Pakistan, where the US has at least nominally recognised the nation as an ally, there is a violation of America’s international legal obligations.

Not only is the drone program putting the US in violation of international law, it is creating more hostile enemies globally and subverting the soft-power of the nation. With the advent of new weapons, American policy makers seem far more willing to exercise force in order to achieve their objectives rather than utilising soft-power diplomacy. This is evidenced by the drones being used against Qadhafi’s regime in Libya, which was bombed rather than negotiated with, as well as the extrajudicial killing of an American-jihadist imam, Anwar Awalaki, in Yemen. The US has enjoyed several years of diplomatic negotiated peace with its rivals without reverting to force in the past, but it seems with the new technology, the policy is to shoot first, ask questions later.

The final and perhaps most alarming element to the drone program is the effect it has on the constitutional sharing of powers between the president and Congress. The decision to use drones is currently the exclusive right of the CIA and the president. Under the Constitution, the president is the commander-in-chief and can make treaties with the advice of Senate. However, Congress possesses the ultimate right to “provide for the common defense,” and “declare war.” Therefore, though the President represents the US to foreign nations, he or his agencies like the CIA, cannot unilaterally engage the US in an armed conflict without the consent of Congress.

As it currently stands, the drone program is handing far too much power to the executive branch and violating the rights of Congress. In many ways, the Congress has capitulated its rights to the president by allowing him to conceal the details of the drone program based on a generalised fear for national security. President Kennedy once stated, “there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.”

Therefore, the American people should realise that though drones may save some American military lives, they carry with them latent and long-reaching effects. Not only are there logistical nightmares that expose the US to greater threats by its enemies, the drones also have negatively affected America’s soft power in international relations and violated the constitutional balance of powers.

Unless this technology can be brought out of the shadowy rooms of the CIA and into the realm of the public through Congress and the international community, the drones will carry a far greater cost than benefit (despite popular belief).

 

The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (39)

Atta,
December 12, 2011 5:32 pm
It is a thorough Article but it must have had the official number of innocent causalities caused by drones in ratio to 1 militant killed, the international body count has declared it to be at-least a 14 innocent people killed per 1 terrorist, and the defination of terrorist is yet to be clearified, because anyone against US or US policies cannot be taken as Terrorists, because most nations in world today hold the same sentiment for US including China and Russia.
Ali
December 12, 2011 5:43 pm
Now this is a scholarly article. Bravo brother.
mudasar khan niazi
December 12, 2011 6:02 pm
time have come to prove drones failure ,,,usa will stop this program,,,as above my friend said Pakistan has paid much cost to it 1 militant killed with 15 innocent civilian, Pakistan should play role to stop this drone
Rao
December 12, 2011 7:23 pm
Drone technology has some of the finest and sophisticated high technology in the weaponsystems. It can be used for destructive or peaceful purposes. It is upto man to decide. One of the typical use is to map terrains, locate missing people and monitor what is going on the ground during flods or earthquakes. Sucessful designs further accelerate avionic designs. All these things can be put to good use.
M. Asghar
December 12, 2011 8:11 pm
These drones are geostrategic tools for the USA that will be confronted by the other playes with their own drones to ceate a balance in warfare.
Anand
December 12, 2011 8:51 pm
Rights (constitutional or otherwise) come with responsibilities. Abuse of those Rights causes loss of these Rights. That si why we have prisions and execution chambers. Abuse of the Rights of sovereignty (to train terrorists, aid and abet in such, aid in launch attacks on others citizens) also is cause for loss of sovereignty. And societies collectively bear responsibilities for their actions. When it comes to War, entire societies suffer the consequences. Dont want drone attacks ? Then act responsible.
alam
December 12, 2011 8:53 pm
no other life is as valuable as the americans,others are subhumans.what a shame.i call this nation inhuman,shame.
Menon
December 12, 2011 8:58 pm
DRONE's does not KILL Civilians. The terrorists hiding amongst them and the people aiding and abetting them kill the civilians.
naseer nasar
December 12, 2011 11:09 pm
so drone attack is unlawful,talibans are also doing unlawful things....then who are on the wrong side?
Kanwal
December 12, 2011 11:12 pm
Prisons and execution chambers come after a FAIR TRIAL of the accused...Drone attacks are extra-judicial killings. Besides, loss of civilians who did not do anything to anybody and are probably already repressed by the militants and their sponsors, is the height of irresponsibility. Does that mean if the other side gets some nuclear or mass destruction weapon, they should also tell Drone-attackers : act responsible. Get over the video games. Its real life. The so-called colateral damage is downright inhuman.
Jamil M Chaudri
December 12, 2011 11:57 pm
America has used power indiscriminately only against weaker nations/groups. The idea is to stimulate research and development in those pathetic nations. Supposing 90% of the natives get killed and the other 10% are able to develop technology with which to retaliate, America will stop the drone attacks and make trade pacts with them. It is weakness that INVITES aggression. Stand up and die for your rights; or develop overwhelming response. The Call of the Wild, obeying the Law of the Wild: Kill or be Killed, Eat or be Eaten.
Vijay
December 13, 2011 12:05 am
Dear Atta, unfortunately those 14 innocent people you are talking about feed, cloth and take care of that 1 terorrist. And most important of all they tolerate his acts of voilence towards other nations, people and willingly or unwillingly provide him the support to act, which makes them accomplices and liable for action. Killing other people by blowing themselves up, supressing women, blowing up girls schools etc, all these definetely qualify the definition of a terrorist and are neither against US Policies. The US is just doing the dirty work, that your own society or govt was supposed to do. Be thankful to god that u made enemies this way with US and not china.
Devendra
December 13, 2011 12:48 am
It never fails to amuse me as to how the Pakistani sovereignty is violated only when ISAF drones go after murderers who kill innocent Pakistani and Afghan civilians; but it is not violated by the fanatics who operate out of Pakistan without (or may be - with?) permission from the Pak Government? These Taliban and Al Qeida murderers have killed ten times more innocent Muslim civilians in Af-Pak then drones will ever kill. What a CROC?
KMR Overseas
December 13, 2011 1:44 am
Drones are being used only after getting intelligence inputs from Pakistan's army/ISI. Pakistan if wants either can stop the mission or shoot down drones. Shooting down surely would prove costly to Pakistan.
Mohammad A Dar
December 13, 2011 3:17 am
Yes drones do not kill innocent, criminals flying them do. If it was not criminality of the complaining criminals, no one had to pickup arms. One has to be blind to fundamental truth, to deny criminality of criminals,` cause of mayhem, not defence by victims cause of mayhem, as one suffering from mental dyslexia may claim in his ignorance.
Shafi
December 13, 2011 3:48 am
Drones are only being used against weak countries that are unable to retaliate ore unable to shoot them down. If the US enemies were hiding in Russia or China US would not dare to use these drones.Remember U2. The response would be devastating.
Muhammad Ahmed Mufti
December 13, 2011 4:14 am
All arguments, arrogance and eloquence in favor of drone attacks will evaporate if one puts him/her self in place of a drone victim.
ajaz-ur-rahman
December 13, 2011 10:27 am
Anand, yes you are right in saying that rights comes with responsiblity. but how will you address the people who are killed along and labeled "colletral damage". I am sure if your loved one have been lost in such colletral damage, your views have been different.
Anil Sharma ( India
December 13, 2011 10:28 am
The extend of using drones shows the depth of cowardice. It is also an inaccurate technology, that is why, it killed 28 Pakistani soldiers, by mistake. Nations should not cooperate with the USA ( as allies ) in fights of any nature using these experimental drones. The nation of cowards and paranoids ( USA ) expects foot soldiers from South Asian countries to do their wars for the wages the pay and get killed either by their enemies of by their drones.
Ralph
December 13, 2011 10:50 am
This is only the beginning of "robotic type weaponry" about to be unleashed on several parts of the world. As the US explores the use of solar powered factories that mainly use robots for assembly, the cost of robotic devices becomes very inexpensive. The American robotic weapons manufacturing will increase as American troops come back home with arms and legs missing and highly unstable mental capabilities (very high suicidal rate). US energy companies and weapon manufacturers are the main benefactor as they stand to gain billions more in profits by keeping the flames of war fanned for their hidden agenda. They keep the US lobbying/political machine well funded.
Saad
December 13, 2011 11:10 am
If these attacks were happening in your country, you wouldnt have the same opinion. You seem to have read much but you are far from intelligent. You better get your mind checked because if it was your mother, father, brother, sister, kids etc then you would be outraged. Before commenting you should always put yourself in other shoes.
bhu_kh
December 13, 2011 11:21 am
Drone are like terrorists who kill innocent people, to prove their political point. Human society should ban both.
Ahmed
December 13, 2011 11:25 am
As mentioned by Atta, what is the definition of a terrorist? From where we stand, its simply what US wants it to be. Pakistan has faced several cross border attacks from Afghanistan, meaning terrorists are based there. So should Pakistan send in forces and carry out attacks? Of course, then it will be violation of rights. And when it comes to society, we have taken more hits from these elements than the international community. Pointing fingers at every chance one gets wont solve problems, but trying to resolve issues mutually might.
Shankar
December 13, 2011 12:18 pm
To surmise that drones target innocent citizens is not correct. While it will be insensitive to call the victims as "collateral damage", it has to be said that drones can be an effective weapon. Baitullah Mehsud besides scores of other terrorists will vouch for that. It is also no secret that the terrorists use human shields to create just this kind of an impression around the world. On the other hand, the US has been a little indiscriminate in its use of drones. They must have a better mechanism of vetting the targets before they launch the drones after them.
Insha Allah
December 13, 2011 12:24 pm
Its like insects fearing Mosquito coils
SJ
December 13, 2011 12:59 pm
So you're justifying the killing of women and children for 1 militant. I guess then 9/11 makes perfect sense ... must be some terrorists in those buildings too that needed to be killed with the rest
Tajammal
December 13, 2011 2:37 pm
You want to prove drone attacks legal and noble task.
R.Kannan
December 13, 2011 2:38 pm
I am not sure how much choice the "14 innocents" have. Terrorists are known to barge into houses in remote areas and the local population has to take care of them for fear of their lives. The real tragedy is that the innocents get killed while terrorists and their supporters get minimal punishment.
Khan Wali
December 13, 2011 2:46 pm
So the Americans are doing a noble work by attacking drones.
shafi
December 13, 2011 3:01 pm
It was not the drones that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Romi
December 13, 2011 5:39 pm
Among all this debate, there is one point we can all agree on... If the terrorists stop operating from Pakistan, then the drone attacks will stop. However if the drone attacks stop today, then the terrorists won't stop operating from Pakistan. The solution to the drone attacks is clear. Get rid of the terrorists. But some people here just don't want to admit it.
Ahmed
December 13, 2011 5:57 pm
Think of a scenario where a drone operator who is flying the machine from thousands of miles away kills his target along with some civilians, this act will be considered a legitimate war action kill. The same person after performing his/her duty leaves the flying control room in USA to rejoin next morning. In the meantime mixes in with civilians, goes to bar, shopping, family etc and is attacked and killed with various other innocent civilians, would that be considered a legitimate kill or a crime? Where do you draw a line where you consider that as legitimate war kill or illegitimate terror act?
Agha Ata
December 13, 2011 6:54 pm
Lets be realistic. All what Americans need is a positive assurance that there will never be another 9/11 in their country caused by the people living in this region. Can we give them this.
Solomon2
December 13, 2011 8:02 pm
Yes, the U.S. should not have acquiesced to the wishes of Pakistani officials to engage in denial; we should have insisted that since the U.S. is pursuing anti-Pakistani terrorists with its drones Pakistan must openly endorse their presence. But when was the last time a Pakistani politician took a political risk?
saurabh
December 14, 2011 1:31 am
he yes you are right
Simon
December 14, 2011 5:37 am
You hit it right on the head. Thanks.
El Cid
December 14, 2011 11:16 am
Words of a responsible thoughtful person...
habib
December 14, 2011 12:09 pm
I will question the extent of "realistic". Can someone be that much realistic to check out who actually carried out 9/11 program and what were the actual motives? OR we should blindly believe on the US accounts of event about 9/11 that that even American people are not believing any more.
khalis
December 17, 2011 7:20 pm
any weapon be it a robotic drone or a knife used for cutting vegetables can harm a person. its upon the user and ethics of it more over the level of correctness of logistics that the killed target is a terrorist or a civilian. it is also possible that terrorist may create a scenario where they fool spy agencies that the target they identified is actually a terror hide out but in reality it is a house having women, children and old people. it should have been thoroughly investigated but i think its too late to hear anyone's allegation
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