Droning On

Realistically and pragmatically unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or Drones are the best solution compared to many alternatives; so I don’t agree with the recent indication voiced by President Obama that policy on American use of them is about to change. If only we had had Drone capability in 2001 then the US would not have entered Afghanistan nor would the US have entered Iraq in 2003. Drones can be used for general and specific reconnaissance and for striking specific targets more cheaply and more efficiently than many alternatives. The use of Drones reduces the risks to American forces to zero; there are no American human forces in the line of fire during the reconnaissance and the strike. The use of Drones also reduces collateral damage to both property and civilian lives close to the target; as the strike is targeted specifically.

Drones can answer the laws of war better that many alternatives. Drones enable the strike to be exact, to be specific, to be proportional and to have been considered and approved prior to being enacted. Had drones been as efficient in 2001 as they are today then there would have been no need for the massive bombing of the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan in December 2001, and bin Laden would probably have been captured then and there. Had drones been as efficient in 2003 as they are today then Saddam would have probably have been identified apart from his numerous doubles thereby not necessitating an invasion and destruction of Iraq requiring a seven year reconstruction program. Just imagine if Drones had been available in 1939, then Hitler could have been targeted, and the Holocaust and Second World War would never have happened. Just imagine if Drones had been available in 1964 then Ho Chi Min could have been targeted, and the Vietnam War would never have happened.

I proposed that the Drone program should receive a boost of funding; that it should be prioritized for development and that it should be put to a much wider use than today’s narrow focus. The unit cost of Drones will drop dramatically and their public acceptability will increase when they are used for agricultural crop spraying, for monitoring and reporting on traffic, to monitor wildfires and extinguish them, to catch vandals, to research and report on weather phenomena, to monitor and save endangered species and to map for Google. I propose that President Obama revise and reverse his intentions ; I propose that he expands the current use of Drones in a counter-terrorist capacity. Signature strikes are the best way forward to deter any person from even contemplating becoming a threat to the US, to Americans and to their economic interests.

President Obama has inferred handing Drone targeted strikes to the military and away from the CIA. However the use of Drone signature and targeted strikes must not be handed to the military; because then American soldiers would be killing prior to Congress having declared war; this is murder. Putting the Drone strike program in the Pentagon will enhance public scrutiny but this will reduce operational performance because this changes the rules of engagement in favor of the adversary. The success of the Drones is the ability of the CIA to see, evaluate and strike in a preventive and preemptive fashion. Drones operated by the Pentagon require a longer and more time intensive chain of command than could result in the escape of the target.

The Drones are not going anywhere; they will continue to be the key technologies in intelligence gathering and strike operations. What President Obama proposes is to change the policy of their use. He proposes to move counter terrorism to being law enforcement rather than a clandestine seek and destroy mission. However law enforcement is capturing, detaining, prosecuting, and imprisonment and that is all about Guantanamo; which was not a success. So if it is really essential to change something then fix Guantanamo and not the Drone program. However law and terrorism is not the issue when debating Drones. Counter-terrorist units have to operate when and where they are required even against American citizens on American soil. The traditional due process does not extend to active terrorists who are American citizens. The Fifth Amendment is not so rigid that it would allow terrorists a blank check and blanket protection to plot and enact mass murder.

I suggest that the Drone strike program suits the expression – don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, and it ain’t broke so I implore President Obama to leave it as it is. Besides Drones also earns Israel amazing revenue: over the last eight years Israel has exported $4.6 billion worth of Drones to 49 countries. This is about 10% of all of Israel’s overall military exports.

Dr Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.