Drones have been the epicenter of an intense ethical dilemma for the United States military since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Since then, drone strikes have become common procedure for western military powers looking to combat violent extremism, particularly in the Middle East.
However, heavy debate sparked following the technology’s very first use, and has since become one of the most contested issues in foreign policy of the modern era.
History of Unmanned Strikes
While one of the first unmanned drones was launched in 2002 for the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, our current president is largely credited for the technology’s widespread use. Introduced as an alternative to the traditional boots-on-the-ground counterinsurgency tactics deployed in Bush Jr.’s Iraq War, the prospect was initially quite appealing. Reasons for public support included:
- The removal of human beings (American soldiers) from perilous situations by introducing a remote-controlled alternative
- Unparalleled reconnaissance ability; drones have the ability to fly into hostile territory collecting information without fear of loss of American life
- The perceived “precision” of targeted missile strikes would supposedly reduce civilian loss of life
However, actual deployment of the technology proved things were a bit more complicated. Journalists on the ground in the days following the strike targeting bin Laden found that the only men killed were civilians collecting scrap metal.
U.S. drone usage continued to escalate for another ten years, despite public outcry from humanitarian groups. In 2012, President Obama launched drone strikes on suspected militants in tribal areas of Pakistan, insisting that they made nothing but precision strikes.
Today, the U.S. and other western military powers are waging a drone war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It is said that Obama is currently being urged to even allow CIA drones to be armed during the conflict.
The Moral Dilemma
The main issue with precision drone strikes is simply the fact they are anything but precise. In fact, according to recently leaked documents, drone strikes have been shown to kill innocent civilians in 9 out of every ten strikes.
In the wake of this, protesters have vocalized beliefs that the act of killing has become even more dehumanized than it already was. The American people, in their opinion, have become totally desensitized to war thanks to the robotic detachment conveniently provided by unmanned aircraft.
With ever more countries signing on to participate in unmanned strikes on Iraq and Syria, accompanied by an increasingly pressured U.S. president, it is unclear what the future of assault drones will be. Cost benefits will likely continue to outweigh ethical outrage, but it’s an issue we’ll have to keep an eye on.