Whereas this Airstrikes site has just reported on drone killings and latterly on airstrikes, the Drone Wars site analyses in detail the impact and (im)morality of the use of armed drones.
Summarised here are some of the points made in detail on a page on the Drone Wars website
Lowering the threshold for the use of force
Politicians know that the public do not like to see young men and women sent overseas to fight in wars which often have remote and unclear aims. Potential TV footage of grieving families awaiting funeral corteges (opposite, casualties in Afghanistan) has been a definite restraint on political leaders weighing up the option of military intervention.
Take away that potential political cost, however, by using unmanned systems, and it makes it much easier – perhaps too easy – for politicians to opt for a quick, short-term ‘fix’ of ‘taking out the bad guys’ rather than engaging in the often difficult and long-term work of solving the root causes of conflicts through diplomatic and political means.
Transferring the risk and cost of war from soldiers to civilians
Despite claims of the defence industry and advocates of drone warfare, it is simply not possible to know precisely what is happening on the ground from thousands of miles away. While the UK claims, for example, that only one civilian was killed in the thousands of British air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, journalist and casualty recording organisations have reported thousands of deaths in Coalition airstrikes.
The use of ‘targeted killing’
The law of war is the component of international law that regulates the conditions for war (jus ad bellum) and the conduct of warring parties.
Legal scholars define targeted killing (undertaken by United States, Israel and the UK) as the deliberate, premeditated killing of selected individuals by a state who are not in their custody. Where the Law of War applies, targeted killing of combatants may be legal, but where war has not been declared it may only be used to save human life that is in imminent danger.
In 2016 The Joint Human Rights Committee released a report into the use of armed drones for targeted killing which focussed on the wider legal issues around the policy of targeted killing, not the individual cases which have shocked many.
Philip Alston the former Special Rapporteur on extra judicial killing suggested that the physical distance between those operating armed drones and the target makes that act of killing much easier. The physical distance induces a kind of psychological ‘distancing’, though it is widely reported that some drone pilots are suffering from post-traumatic stress from having to see the results of their strikes.
The myth of ‘precision’
Drones permit, we are told, pin-point accurate air strikes that kill the target while leaving the innocent untouched. The reality is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed accurate airstrike. Even under test conditions, only 50% of weapons are expected to hit within their ‘circular error of probability’.
Ushering in permanent war?
Drones are enabling states to carry out attacks with seemingly little reference to international law norms. US law professor Rosa Brooks argued in a disturbing article in Foreign Policy that ‘there’s no such thing as peacetime’ anymore. “Since 9/11,” she writes “it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war.”
As Drone Wars concludes: “The slide towards forever war must be rejected and resisted. It is incumbent on us all, citizen, politician, military officer, to work towards global peace and security, not permanent warfare”.
Further reading on the Drone Wars website:
Drones do ‘lower threshold for use of lethal force’ academic study finds
“Thinking war is bloodless is a mistake.” Talking drones & remote war with Air Marshall Bagwell
Parliamentary Committee release report into drones and targeted killing
“Here’s their actual stories, make of them what you will.” Dr Peter Lee on ‘Britain’s Reaper Force’
Are we being misguided about precision strike?