A drone operator receives the order to fire at a house, where a terrorist is suspected to be hiding in. Safely in a control room miles away, he presses a button to fix the target and then fires the missile. There is no sign of anyone.
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A countdown of 10 seconds starts, signaling the time it will take for the missile to hit the ground. 10, 9, 8, . There is still no sign of anyone. 7, 6, 5. It is precisely in those last 4 seconds when a child walks around the corner, the last distinguishable individual on the screen before it illuminates with a bright flash. What could easily be used as a scene for a horror movie is a true story repeating itself every single day. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, are remotely-controlled aircraft that are armed with missiles and bombs. Originally built during the First World War, they were deployed on a large scale throughout the Vietnam War. Their sole purpose was to only be used in and improve warfare but nowadays have various functions from monitoring climate to carrying out search operations. Unfortunately, the most controversial use is by the US military for surveillance and targeted attacks, especially those that result in civilian deaths. With the ethics of this weaponry in question, society has an obligation to make sure that drones are used in the same way as they were initially used – only inside of war zones.
The electronically-controlled drones known of today trace precisely back to the 1930s when the British Royal Navy invented and developed the DH.82B Queen Bee, the first returnable and reusable UAV (Krock). Crafted from spruce and plywood, the Queen Bee was radio-controlled and able to fly as high as 17,000 feet and travel a maximum distance of 300 miles at over 100 mph (Krock). Perhaps it was the apian name of the model and the fact that they did only what they were programmed to do that inspired the term drone to be used synonymously with UAVs. Technology was soon able to propel and stabilize drones, and now the sky, as it would be, is the limit. Today, drones come in all sorts of sizes ranging from vast solar-powered fixed-wing aircraft to minute helicopter-like devices fashioned on hummingbirds (Bott et al.). One of the most common attack drones is the MQ-1 Predator developed by the defense contractor General Atomics. The Predator can operate at altitudes reaching 25,000 feet and easily cruises at 100 mph (Bott et al.) Despite how fascinating this improved technology can be, it has been used countless times in manners that violate international law and even human rights. The CIA is notorious for implementing signature strikes – attacks on people outside of the kill list and outside of current war zones based on mere suspicion. In addition, the Obama administration alone authorized 542 of the signature strikes and killed around 3,797 people, all with this advanced piece of automation (Zenko).
Signature strikes outside of the battlefield should be discontinued because they defeat their main purpose and increase the number of opposition in swelling numbers. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States has increased its usage of drones to find and attack specific targets. It may seem like UAVs are doing their job of eliminating some of the nation’s threats; ironically, the truth of the matter is that it gives terrorists an even greater motive for getting revenge. According to journalist Jeremy Scahill, the vast majority of the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula consists of people who are aggrieved by attacks on their homes that forced them to to go out and fight (Scahill). Because drone strikes leave several dead and many more without the food or shelter that militant groups also offer, militant groups are able to recruit countless as a result of mounting anger and sadness or the plain need to survive. Ultimately, every signature strike that kills an innocent has a high chance of recruiting at least twice as many. During the first term of Obama’s presidency, a significant increase in strikes corresponded to a significant increase in Al Qaeda members from 300 to 700 or more (Raghavan). If the number of members increases alongside the number of attacks, drones are simply fueling the opposition against their own intentions. Repeating the above process only feeds more fuel to an already volatile fire. The vicious cycle of signature strikes and influx in members is further strengthened by the statements of people who attempted to retaliate. The Underwear Bomber, who tried to blow up an American airliner referenced attacks in Yemen and Somalia: I had an agreement . to attack the United States . in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations (Green). This was similar to what the Times Square Bomber says and only verifies that signature strikes are a recurring motive.
Drone strikes should only be put into effect inside war zones because they break international laws when they are not. One guideline set by international humanitarian law is that a person who is not or no longer participating in hostilities should be protected (Human Rights Watch). Instead, the Obama administration normalized the use of armed drones in non-battlefield settings – namely Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia (Zenko). Exactly the opposite of what the IHL says is carried out when attacks are committed against suspected people based on their lifestyle, even if they have never shown aggression. It is the equivalent of a substitute teacher expelling a student just because the student looks like they will not do the work. The substitute teacher does not have the authority to expel a student, and a student should never be judge based on looks alone. Article 6:1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights makes it clear that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of his life (United Nations). Article 2:4 of the ICCPR says that the threat or use of force cannot be executed unless the host state agrees to it (United Nations). Arbitrary attempts to attack suspects have killed an estimated 324 civilians ; in effect, signature strikes are a violation of law. What’s more, UAVs are utilized in these areas with the consent of the US government rather than the host nation. The basis of the attacks in countries like Yemen and Somalia is the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Passed by Congress a week after 9/11, the law authorized the use of all force against any who aided in the attacks so that the acts of terrorism would not repeat themselves (Currier). Although it is often thought signature strikes make the host country safer and are a form of undeserving assistance, they are detrimental and add to the United States reputation of making others’ matters their own without consent. These strikes are in fact a war crime when they operate outside of their effective area.
Because they emotionally remove people from actual death, signature strikes should cease to continue. The most controversial idea of drone warfare to many is the idea of making light of the horrors of war by allowing an operator to kill someone without warning from miles away. Keith Shurtleff, a US ethics instructor as well as army chaplain, claims that the emotional disconnection is dangerous: As war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is a very real danger (Cole and Wright). Cyberbullying, physical bullying, and verbal bullying are all forms of bullying. Although all three are equally malicious, cyberbullying is even more dangerous since it is the only form of bullying that does not involve face-to-face interaction with another person. This allows for the bully to harm the victim in ways worse than traditional bullying without feeling any regret. Similar to cyberbullying, signature strikes outside a war zone lose the deterrent that the horrors of physical warfare provide and sugarcoats death to how it would be in a sanitized video game. A drone pilot acknowledged the peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia (Bumiller). He also states, I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy. I have a duty, and I execute the duty (Bumiller). Some may argue that drones are effective for simplifying the cost of an invasion in money and lives, but the ethics of the warfare are overall far more important. The drones will never be able to hear the screams of dying children on the ground. In addition, of the drone operators who are not entirely disconnected from the real people dying real deaths, numerous go through emotional and psychological stress. Several UAV operators have reported having to deal with the image of a child killed in error outside a war zone; a study by the Armed Forces Health surveillance center reported that common symptoms included post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety (Otto and Webber).
The repercussions of UAVs performing strikes in non-battlefield settings all point to one clear resolution: disbanding signature strikes. Drone strikes outside of war zones are creating more enemies than they are removing and are not effective. Unjust attacks on innocent civilians in are a prime motivation for retaliation. Moreover, signature strikes which are already not legal under international law violate the sovereignty of other nations. They violate the cherished basic human rights and can never be justified. Furthermore, civilians affected by these types of drone strikes do not know what is about to hit them when an operator presses a trigger from miles away. The emotional disconnect of using robots to attack civilian settings is horrifying with questionable ethics. When society keeps their obligation of restricting the use of drones to only in war, countless lives that are at stake everyday will be released from an ongoing cycle of death.
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