Use of Drones

The use of drones has greatly increased recently; they have been used to kill individuals, to destroy infrastructure, and for surveillance.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or ‘drones’, have proliferated.  Some have become much more sophisticated, with the ability to deliver bombs precisely.  Others have been produced in large quantities, reducing their cost.  Russia’s war with Ukraine is now dominated by drones.  An unexpected side-effect of this pattern is that reportedly: Ukraine’s War of Drones Runs Into an Obstacle: China.  China’s dominance in electronics means that it can decide how much to supply to each combatant.

America’s use of drones against suspected terrorists, in Pakistan for example, was a form of assassination.  In American law, the President is permitted to regard any terrorist or potential terrorist as an enemy combatant under the “war against terrorism” legislation: The Authorisation to Use Military Force, which was signed on 18 September 2001.  It might not have been regarded as a hostile act against Pakistan, though, because Secret memos reveal explicit nature of U.S., Pakistan agreement on drones – as revealed by The Washington Post.

Drones change the perception of war into a video game – the operators of such weapons are less aware of the humanity of those they are killing, and the psychology of a video game is to try to get a high score.  American drone pilots were recorded as using the language of computer games on a military video, as revealed by The Guardian article entitled Wikileaks reveals video showing US air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians.

There can be no certainty that the people targeted are actually involved in terrorism – particularly in the case of so-called ‘signature strikes’ where people are targeted solely because their behaviour looks suspicious, as described in a Real Clear World article entitled The Drone War Doctrine We Still Don’t Know About.  It is possible to imagine a situation where a baker putting bags of flour into a van could be mistaken for someone packing a van with explosives; he might be killed simply because there would be no way of asking him what he was doing.

Pinpoint accuracy cannot be achieved, partly because of the time lapse due to the distance between the operator and the drone.  It is rarely possible to kill only one person with a bomb.  In October 2013, the UN reported that there had been 400 civilian deaths from drone-strikes in Pakistan – although America was unrepentant, as reported by the BBC in an article entitled US defends drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

The civilian deaths caused by drone-strikes create understandable indignation in the population and other family members.  The scale of collateral damage can be such that the use of drones might be counterproductive:

●  Friends and neighbours can become radicalised, becoming terrorists.  Drones recruit more terrorists than they kill – as described in a BBC article, Is Obama’s drone doctrine counter-productive?, citing Yemen-expert Gregory Johnson of Princeton University.

●  President Obama personally authorised drone strikes by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  Naomi Wolf’s article, JSoc: Obama’s secret assassins, reviewed the Oscar-nominated documentary film Dirty Wars, which reported that the US ‘kill list’ in the “war against terrorism” grew exponentially.  As names were removed from the top of the list, new recruits were added as a result of reactions against the strikes.  There is also a book: Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.

●  Even if a drone strike is intended to save lives by preventing a terrorist attack, the civilian deaths directly caused by the strike can generate adverse publicity.  As reported by the BBC in August 2021, Afghanistan: US investigates civilian deaths in Kabul strike, a drone strike killed some of the very people it was trying to protect: who had worked for America and who were fleeing the Taliban as America withdrew.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7323.htm.