From a moral and ethical standpoint, drones are little different from rifles, bombers or tanks. Decisions about how and when to use them are made by people. No doubt, the distance between the human warfighter and the battlefield has never been longer, but the psychological proximity can be closer for drone pilots than for other military personnel. Intense surveillance makes these pilots so familiar with their targets — when they sleep, eat and see their families — that some have reported difficulty reconciling that intimacy after they’ve pulled the trigger.
The toughest moral question is not about technology but about targeting and transparency: When militants plotting against America operate globally, don’t wear uniforms and may even be U.S. citizens, who can be targeted and where? The White House recently released to members of Congress a Justice Department memo providing details of the targeting process — this may alleviate, but not eliminate, those concerns.
2.Drone strikes cause inordinate civilian casualties.
Armed drones are some of the most precise weapons used in conflict; we hit what we aim for. But any lethal force results in some civilian casualties, and the use of drones beyond “hot battlefields” means that the civilian-combatant distinction is harder to make.
The New York Times has reported that the Obama administration counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants — an approach that would underreport civilian casualties. But the New America Foundation’s Peter Bergen
argues that, since 2008, the civilian casualty rate from drones has declined dramatically and as of last summer was “at or close to zero.”
While many dispute this figure, civilian casualties in drone strikes are clearly fewer than if massive bombs were used instead.
Armed drones can strike fear in the hearts of America’s adversaries and provide a military edge. But Washington may have to deal with blowback. John Bellinger, a former State Department legal adviser in the George W. Bush administration, worries that drones might “become as internationally maligned as Guantanamo.” Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that U.S. drone strikes are “hated on a visceral level.”
If drones are perceived as unjust, or if the deaths of innocents are attributed to them, correctly or not, America’s larger strategic objective — defeating al-Qaeda and the ideology that feeds it — could be at risk.
3.Drones allow us to fight wars without danger.
The allure is simple: A drone swoops in while its operator is safe, thousands of miles away, and the precision-guided ordnance hits a target, with little risk to our troops.
But drones should not give us a false sense of security. After all, the intelligence required for targeting may require U.S. boots on the ground. And drone attacks will not improve governance in a nation that offers a haven to terrorists.