An important, and often overlooked, topic in recent presidential debates is whether or not the U.S. should continue or expand our use of drone warfare in the fight against terrorism, or whether the tactic ultimately is more harmful than beneficial, and should be disbanded.
Arguments for the continuation of drone warfare include the stealthy ability of drones to attack precise targets, decimate terrorist networks and thwart the plans of attacks before they ever materialize. Under these presumptions, drone warfare is a precise, efficient strategy with which to fight terrorists, and has saved American lives without putting boots on the ground.
The collateral damage of drone warfare often calls into question their ethical implications. While drones are precise, and their U.S. operators are careful, innocent civilians have been killed during strikes. Many argue that brutal attacks with such potential for civilian casualties serve as motivation for more individuals in the Middle East to join terrorist groups. In other words, drone warfare elicits radical responses.
Drone warfare is neither neat nor foolproof, but is any method of war? I believe that drone warfare is the best option we have. Don’t just take my word for it, take it from a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, who wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last week outlining why drone warfare should be embraced to create a safer America:
“The [drone warfare] program is not perfect,” Hayden writes. “No military program is. But here is the bottom line: It works. I think it fair to say that the targeted killing program has been the most precise and effective application of firepower in the history of armed conflict. It disrupted terrorist plots and reduced the original Qaeda organization along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to a shell of its former self.”
Hayden makes sense. And for those who still feel a bit queasy about the thought of killing innocent civilians from time to time, I would remind us all to consider the intentions of the two sides here and the asymmetry of potential outcomes. The U.S. aims to kill terrorist leaders who are potentially plotting attacks on our soil.
Should just one terrorist attack materialize in our country, the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Americans would be threatened. In my view, the potential consequence of inaction dwarfs the notion that we should not try to kill terrorists with drones because we may kill civilians in the vicinity of said terrorists.
Don’t get me wrong – killing innocent women, children and civilians makes me queasy. But the thought of another attack like 9/11 makes me much sicker.
Terrorists have made plans time and time again to attack us on our soil, and have surely failed many times, many times likely thwarted by our military and intelligence bureaus. However, we have to remember that it only takes one successful attack for a massive loss of American life. We have a moral obligation to do all we can to stop terrorists before they fulfill their goals, which often entail American death.
Needless to say, I agree with Hayden – the targeted killing drone warfare program should be embraced. The state of the world today requires it.
However, Hayden’s most compelling point came in a discussion of the dangers of inaction. He said, in reference to his meetings with President Bush over controversial topics like drone warfare, “If we had boiled our briefings down, the essence would have been: ‘Knowing what we know, there will be no explaining our inaction after the next attack.’”
So should we embrace drone warfare? Yes. When objectively viewing the harsh reality and threats that terrorism poses to not only the U.S. but the world today, I frankly don’t think we have a choice.
Owen Sandercox ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Sandy Hook, Conn. He majors in economics and statistics.