Unresolved issues in use of drones

In Thursday’s address at National Defense University in Washington DC, President Obama defended the use of drones.  Whilst announcing some welcome restrictions on their use, particularly in banning the use of signature strikes, he still has not addressed several outstanding issues:

  1. Collateral damage is unavoidable.  According to one report: “US drone strikes have killed up to 3,581 people in Pakistan, including as many as 884 civilians and 197 children since 2004”.
  2. The propaganda impact of using drones, as addressed in the previous post on this website, has the effect of recruiting new terrorists at the same time as removing others.
  3. The use of drones amounts to judicial murder.  The victim has not been brought to trial in a court of law.  The ‘city on a hill’ is setting a bad example to other countries.
  4. Often there are alternative ways of containing a terrorist threat.  Anwar al-Awlaki, who was an American citizen killed by a drone strike in Yemen, had previously been in federal custody.  His obituary shows that one of his most dangerous aspects was his influence on other people: he was a hate preacher.  Incitement to others to commit a crime is itself a crime.  If it was thought that a prosecution would have been unsuccessful, perhaps on the grounds of suppressing freedom of speech, this amounts to a very dangerous distortion of values.  How can it be just to kill somebody for what he says, without having first put him on trial, and yet it be considered unjust to prevent him saying it?  And it would have been far better to have prevented him from inciting violence than to kill him afterwards by violent means.  The right to freedom of speech has to be set against other people’s right to life, as discussed in the book Patterns of Power (5.4.5).
  5. Following America’s highly successful demonstration of the effectiveness of drones for killing people (for whatever reason) the technology is becoming popular.  Hezbollah is now using drones, although Israel was able to shoot one down.  China is now investing heavily in the technology.  There is clearly an issue of drone proliferation and a lack of agreement on guidelines as to their use.  This matter needs to be pursued at the United Nations and both America and China should agree to be bound by whatever is agreed.  Hezbollah would not pay any attention to the United Nations, so the agreed guidelines would have to include a strategy for reducing the threat presented by terrorist use of drones.