In President Obama’s first term, 300 drone strikes killed an estimated 2,500 people. Drone strikes are a powerful tool in the war on terror, but they are also a tool without rules.
The New York Times reported yesterday that in the weeks before the presidential election, the Obama administration was scrambling to create guidelines for the use of drones. These rules were to be created in case Obama wasn’t re-elected; the new president would then have a clear set of directives to determine when the use of drone strikes was allowed.
While Obama’s re-election should have seen this issue put on the back burner, the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus in the wake of his adultery scandal may bring this issue back to the forefront.
For the third time in his presidency, President Obama has the task of appointing a new director for the CIA. This director will play a large role in shaping the United States’ policy on the use of drone strikes.
The first U.S. drone strikes began in 2002 against targets in Afghanistan. Combining intelligence with technology, drones are able to strike specific targets with accuracy and precision, while causing minimal collateral damage. These strikes are also carried out with no danger to our own troops.
It’s easy to see why they are perceived as the new face of modern warfare.
The U.S. has justified the use of drones by relying on the law of war. Because the U.S. is at war with terrorists who pose a threat to the country, whatever measures are necessary to quash those threats are justifiable, including the use of drone strikes.
This is a total reversal of policy from when the U.S. criticized Israel’s use of drones to take out likely terrorists in foreign territories.
There is a great deal of international skepticism about the justifications for the use of drones in the war on terror. The United Nations has announced its plans to start an investigation into the U.S.’s use of drones next year. The U.N. has recognized that there are no rules in the international sphere governing the use of drones and that the U.S. is likely to create those rules through its actions.
The war on terror is far from the traditional conception of war, and yet we began fighting it like it was. Drone strikes are an evolution from that traditional conception of war and utilize the best strengths of our military, intelligence and technology.
However, President Obama ran on a platform of ending questionable practices in fighting the war on terror. He called for the closing of Guantanamo Bay and the end of “enhanced interrogations,” or the use of torture to elicit information from terrorist suspects. Under his presidency, the use of drones has shifted from taking out specifically targeted terrorist suspects to taking out suspected strongholds of suspected and potential terrorists.
Drones are an incredibly powerful tool, but there’s no limit to who else can gain access to that tool. If we use them on foreign soil to take out targets that we have deemed are enemies, who else could use drones for the same reasons? Limiting the use of drones is absolutely necessary.
We are treading down a dangerous path with the use of drones. Whether we like it not, as a nation, we are setting the precedent for the rest of the world. Currently, that precedent is that it is acceptable to use drone strikes to take out enemies on a foreign territory, and that has terrifying implications.
Drones are a technology that has been in use for 10 years now, and for the first time in a decade, there is an attempt to regulate the use of those weapons. Hopefully it’s not too late to turn the tide and keep other countries from using our new favorite wartime technology against us.
Brittany Sharkey is a third-year law student from Oceanside, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @brittanysharkey.