Drones Usage and its Legal and Moral Aspects
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones as they are popularly called have grown exponentially since their weaponization close to the turn of the century. The US fleet alone grew 40 times between 2002 and 2010, when the Iraq and Afghan wars were at their most intense. Upwards of 70 countries own some kind of drones. It has, once again, revolutionized warfare by allowing the most technically-advanced owners to indulge in, hitherto unknown, nano-warfare, i.e. warfare against individuals anywhere on the globe. Like all earlier revolutions in military affairs (RMAs), this one also has some advantages and negatives related to it. As Neil Postman said that â€œtechnological change is not additive; it is ecological. A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything.â€ The drone usage in Pakistan has created a bizarre situation where it is thought both as an ally and a prospective target. Its sovereignty has been violated repeatedly because of this RMA. The situation was created because Pakistani governments, because of lack of options, approved of both safe havens for the Taliban and the American drone strikes against them. In countries under attack, there are indications that the drone strikes have undermined security as well as social structures, and created far more problems than they purported to solve. A former deputy chief of the US mission in Yemen, Nabeel Khoury, said that, â€˜the US generates roughly 40 to 60 enemies for every Al Qaida operative it kills in Yemenâ€™
Although the drone is unmanned, the system isnâ€™t! In addition to the technicians and engineers, there is a pilot who flies it and decides to fire a weapon. Since killing people involves decision-making so there is a man in the loop. At the highest level, President Obama approves the kill list.
The drones extend the reach of the soldierâ€™s senses and lethality through space. Under the current operational arrangements this space extends to almost 7500 mile-the distance between Creech Air Force Base Nevada, where the operator sits and the target-rich environment along the Pak-Afghan border. The time lapse between choosing to fire and the missile hitting the target is about 30 seconds. There is only 1.7 second delay between the operatorâ€™s command and the aircraftâ€™s response.
In conventional warfare, reciprocity is an important brake on the decision to shoot. However, the human targets of Hellfire missiles cannot threaten their source of destruction. This is, therefore, an unequal fight. Can the drone operator be classified as a combatant? It does not conform to the norms of war in which both sides agree to risk death in settling a dispute. It is only by becoming a target oneself one fulfils the traditional role of a soldier. Therefore a killing by drone is unjust because those doing the killing are not themselves willing to die.
The changed nature of warfare caused US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta to announce a Distinguished Warfare Medal for â€˜extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations but do not involve acts of valor or physical risks that combat entailsâ€™. This was opposed by Veterans of Foreign Wars group and other combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan, who countered that medals earned in direct combat would be degraded and troop morale would suffer. The medal was withdrawn.
The morality and legality of killing civilians, whether through carpet bombing or drones, remain essentially unchanged. The claimed â€˜bomb-on-the-foreheadâ€™ accuracy of the drone is presented as a positive for drone warfare because it tends to reduce â€˜collateral damage.â€™ Three days after 9/11, the Congress authorized the President to â€˜use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided these terrorist attacks.â€™ Thus the US was not at war with one country but with every country where US government (USG) determined that Al Qaida existed. It was against all laws of war and international human rights but bestowed upon the USG unlimited right of self-defense. Thus from the American perspective there were no non-war zones, just places that either contained threats or didnâ€™t contain threats. In April 2012, CIA director , John Brennan offered the USâ€™s view:â€™ there is nothing in international law that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside an active battle field, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.â€™ Thus, in the light of this justification, the US maintains that its use of drones outside of conventional war zones is legal. This is notwithstanding the fact that it isnâ€™t even clear that a state can legally consent to allow another state to kill its citizens on its territory. If someone other than the USG was doing it, they would be accused of genocide and would provide a justification for US or NATO intervention, like it happened in Iraq, Libya, and Syria etc.
The Obama administration maintained that Al Qaida has no non-military wing so all members, whether bomb-makers, propagandists or drivers were fair game and the list of targets down the line grew so long that they were likely no threats at all. This radical interpretation of â€˜self-defenseâ€™ international laws has taken the global security order in a direction that favors US and inevitably other, imperial powers.
The mere presence of UAVs in a region suggests trouble because though it is intended to kill a person or a few persons, which can only be done through the surveillance of a wider population, which implies that unfavorable assumptions have already been made in advance of the deployment. Thus a population that falls under the gaze of the drones is already a population with a question mark, if not yet crosshairs, on its back.
Drones and Just War Theory
Laws governing the use of force in the international system protect the sovereignty and integrity of states, which is why states generally uphold them even though it means accepting some constraints on their ability to wage war. The only exceptions to this rule are Israel and the US. In the just war tradition, a war must show both just cause and just conduct. The only just causes recognized in the UN Charter are that of self-defense against aggression (Article 51); or to aid victims of aggression when explicitly permitted by the UN Security Council (Article 2(4)). An important test is that force must be proportionate to the problem it seeks to address: â€˜Only if the universal good predicted to result outweighs the universal ill predicted, is the military action justifiable. As important just cause is to the war, so is the just conduct! The latter governs the way force is applied. It seeks to limit the means of warfare, for example by restricting certain technologies through treaties (such as chemical/nuclear/cluster weapons and landmines) and so addresses the specific nature of what drones are permitted to do in the military theatre. In assessing just conduct with regard to UAVs, there are three considerations: the proportionality of the response vis-Ã -vis the potential or actual threat, the distinction made between civilians and combatants, and the military necessity of taking action. UN human rights expert Christof Heyns said, â€œItâ€™s difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to [events] in 2001â€. Violations of international law are alleged because, in the case of Pakistan for example, â€˜the individuals who are being targeted are not directly participating in hostilities, and/or because the high civilian death toll from drone attacks means the force used is neither necessary nor proportionateâ€™.
An important curb on going to war has traditionally been the prospect that violence would be reciprocated and all warring parties will face losses. Because unmanned operations are risk-free, they remove an important moral brake on war fighting: by reducing the risk taken by the attacker, they lower the threshold for action. However, in making a more general case that drones contribute to just cause, Brunstetter and Braub suggest that:
Drones arguably provide a government the means to act on just cause more proportionate in responding toâ€¦a (terrorist) threat because they require minimal on the ground logistics, are less expensive, and less invasive than ground troops and can more specifically target the threat itself- that is , individual terrorists.
This is all good in theory and at the policy- and strategy-making level! At the operational level it is an altogether different matter. This is illustrated by an emotive letter to President Obama by Faisal bin Ali Jaber, whose brother-in-law Salem, a moderate preacher in Yemen, was killed in a drone attack. He said inter alia:
How was this â€˜self-defenseâ€™? My family worried that militants would target Salem for his sermons. We never anticipated his death would come from above, at the hands of the United statesâ€¦.How was this â€˜in last resortâ€™? Our town was no battlefield. We had no warning- our local police were never asked to make any arrestâ€¦.How was this â€˜proportionateâ€™? The strike devastated our community.
Habermas suggests that there are no more just or unjust wars, only legal or illegal ones, justified or unjustified, under myriad international laws. Article 36 of the Geneva Convention requires new type of weapons to be reviewed to see if they comply with international law. The US didnâ€™t conduct a review of its weaponised Predator because it claimed that both Hellfire missile and Predator itself had already been reviewed independently to assess their compliance. This assertion disregards the guide to Article 36 that states: â€˜reviews should cover â€œan existing weapon that is modified in a way that it alters its function, or a weapon that has already passed a legal review and is subsequently modified.â€â€™
Jeffery Sluka, a political anthropologist, has concluded that: â€œAs a counter insurgency weapon, hunter-killer drones appear to be losers. They are creating more militants than they kill, and their escalating use is alienating or â€˜losing the hearts and mindsâ€™ of the civilian populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rogers and Hill conclude that: â€˜The US failure to achieve lasting success in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, its destabilization of Pakistan, and the resilience of Al-Qaeda- inspired movements in Yemen and Somalia, all indicate deep-seated problems with American policy since 9/11, including its reliance on high-tech weaponry to achieve security. This has also proven that the â€˜death from aboveâ€™ creates more problems than it solves. A decade of drone strikes had turned the Pakistani population, its security deeply undermined, against the US and its own government.â€™ Drones are tactically precise, but of limited use against a messy strategic problem. The experiences of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, during the past fourteen years, corroborate the above assertions!