United States: Drones and the New Laws of War

Edited by Mary Young



The use of drones by American forces — mainly the CIA — has increased in recent years. Barack Obama himself does not hesitate to resort to these remotely controlled aircraft for “targeted killings.”

Without our really being aware, the art of war is undergoing crucial transformations right in front of our eyes. Calling for major developments, one of them concerns the employment of drones, a sophisticated armament of which the United States now makes frequent use. These remotely controlled aircraft, intended for intelligence missions or transport, are also formidable killers that operate in clandestine conditions and beyond any proper legal framework. That is in any case the direction taken by American forces and, more precisely, the CIA, which operates its very specific missions in the greatest secrecy. Between 2009 and April 2012, we were able to count 265 hits carried out by drones, mainly directed against targets — frequently individuals — located on Pakistani soil. The upward trend continues to be confirmed.

The double characteristic of this strategy is never to give rise to official confirmations and to lead more and more frequently to the elimination of Americans civilians considered real terrorists by Washington on foreign soil, according to criteria fully appraised by the intelligence services and, indeed, by the White House.

Thus, that is how Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has initiated a record number of deadly strikes, to the point that the families of certain victims have filed complaints against various U.S. officials, including the director of the CIA. In addition, regarding the operations carried out in Afghanistan or Pakistan, we have very little information about the collateral damages suffered by these country’s populations. From the beginning of his first term, the man who had declared that America “does not torture” has shown a stupefying propensity to resort to killer drones, demanding that intelligence services provide him, on the basis of criteria that are not subject to any control, a list of suspects representing an imminent threat to the U.S.

This evolution is the backbone of the “furtive strategy” (“light footprint strategy” — we can appreciate the irony) that Barack Obama is in the middle of making the new reality for armies of the future. With the resources of the Special Forces used to eliminate Bin Laden and the development of cyberattacks aimed at the computers of the enemy, as is the case against the Iranian nuclear program, the drone is one of three offensive capabilities that have been marked as military spending priorities in the future. Evidently this polymorphous machine will generalize, if it is not to trivialize, what puts the spotlight on the French delay in this field (even if France limits its ambitions to intelligence missions by excluding killer drones). In Mali, for example, the French forces would have had an immense benefit from having effective drones in sufficient numbers, which in fact they lack. We speak a lot about it, but we do not act: The French Ministry of Defense is the first to regret this deficiency.

Suffice it to say that without a doubt this weapon, on an international level, requires a better definition of its employment, because it involves a whole series of strategic developments, and it paves the way for new proliferation risks. Already the Air Force Academy creates more drone “pilots” than airplane pilots. The debate is lively about “the right to kill,” the Obama administration’s interpretation of which is classified as “confidential” and does nothing to increase the popularity of the U.S. within the Arab-Muslim world. Most of all we see looming the nightmare of a “right to kill,” which in turn is seized by Russia, China… or Iran.

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