by Tony Halsteindal
A secret CIA airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi-Arabia has recently been made aware to the public. The airbase was used to conduct target killings of people in Yemen that were supposedly linked Al-Qaida. The reveal of the CIA airbase occurred only days before the hearing of CIA director nominee John Brennan, where the topic of drone strikes was highly disputed. Angry protesters interrupted the hearing several times by shouting and holding up signs against drone strikes. Brennan himself defended the conduct in his testimony and according to recent opinion polls, the majority of the US population take a similar stand.
Use of drones over the last few years has become a subject of controversy, mostly because the attacks have caused civilian casualties. Exactly how many civilians die each year is widely disputed, mainly because of a combination of secrecy from US government and the unwelcoming terrain where the strikes take place. The American government claims the loss of civilian lives has ranged from none to single-digit numbers per year. However, research conducted by several non-governmental organizations suggests that the number of civilian casualties has reached double-digits.
Regardless, the use of drones is becoming an increasingly popular practice. Since 2004 there have been about 350 drone strikes in Pakistan and a majority of those took place after 2009, when Obama took office.
Are drones the future of warfare? And what happens to war if we let drones do all the fighting?
While the use of drones preserves the lives of soldiers, there’s still the question of what will happen to the nature of warfare if all battles are conducted from a secure location behind a computer screen. Soldiers in war often require the ability to kill their enemies with relative ease, and this often happens through a process of dehumanization of their enemies. Of course this isn’t without a toll on the soldiers mind. In the last few centuries a human’s capability to kill has become increasingly easier, as we have switched out the swords with assault rifles. In Afghanistan, I’ve been told, the average distance in a fire exchange is at least a couple hundred meters. Quit the contrast from the traditional up close and personal stabbing with a sword. So basically when soldiers go into contact today they are shooting at shadows in the distance. What happens when those shadows become dots on a computer screen without any opportunity to even fire back?
Honestly, I’m more than a little divided on the subject. I see the appeal in removing the possibilities of losing any of your on soldiers, but it worries me what this power might do to the disinclination to engage in war. When it concerns the loss of civilian lives, which is the main criticism against the drone program, I don’t condone it at all. Civilians should be protected no matter what, unless it’s to prevent a significantly greater loss of civilians. And with how frequent these attacks occur I have serious doubts about the necessity. It seems like the advancement is going towards more drones. It makes me wonder what the future of warfare will look like. Will we eventually see a complete drone war, where no soldier actually enters the battlefield? What’s scary about this scenario is that with no lives lost, at least not in battle, the reluctance to go to war might completely disappear. Nevertheless, it seems like war is becoming increasingly less personal.