Drones in the Military

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Re: Drones in the Military

Unread postby Shikanosuke » Sat Aug 30, 2014 10:48 pm

bodidley wrote:You've never heard of Dresden?


I'm quite aware of the Allied bombing of the city of Dresden, where two forces legally at war committed conventional airpower to a theater. How that is relevant to this discussion however, I am not aware at all.

You've never heard of Guantanamo? Since the "War on Terror" started literally tens of thousands of people have been detained by on the ground operations.


I'm quite aware of Guantanamo, where we housed potential terrorists/enemy combatants. However, as those individuals were (as you yourself note) arrested by ground forces in a combat zone this aside has little relevance to a discussion on the use of drones who operate predominately (as you yourself note) in areas we are not authorized to have ground troops.

And yes, you shouldn't use air power to obtain your goals when the goal does not fit its use.


Agreed. And if the U.S. starts using drones to drop missiles for capture missions, we'll have a problem of logic. However, that is not the goal trying to be achieved.

Not to mention the fact that the wider struggle with Al-Qaeda is not purely military but is a policing and political operation.


If policing you mean containment, then maybe. But that isnt' really what this discussion on drones will hinge upon.

A Predator drone fires a hellfire missile, which is a very destructive projectile, and there are plenty of cases of dozens or more people going out with the target.


This is true, and these are regrettable losses.

Not to mention the fact that there is simply no way to positively identify an individual with the aircraft itself. In 2002 we took out a tall guy on a mountain because he kinda sort looked like he might be bin Laden.


Yes, its possible we need better intelligence. I'll never dispute that, but that alone doesn't disparage the means of how to deal with a target if identified. Also, if we follow that logic we'll never be able to launch any operation.

The countries we're operating in have armed forces and police, and even diplomatic relations with the United States.


Well, yes, some of them do. But that is sort of the problem and cause behind using a drone. Were the armed forces of countries like, say, Pakistan and Yemen able (or willing) to handle the problem we wouldn't have any need to even debate this issue would we? Unfortunately, these countries are incapable of handling these issues and some may even be in collusion. So I'm not too worried about your point here.

There are plenty of countries in which the Special Operation, the CIA and the FBI work together with local authorities on the ground with the consent of the government.


This is true, and we've seen the work of our intelligence forces and Special Operations teams time and time again. However, they are not and can't be everywhere. They are expensive and effective assets. I don't think you are actually insinuating this, but when i hear this kind of talk i imagine the folks who just think we can willy nilly send the billions of seals people think we have to the far corners of the globe whenever we need something done.

I haven't said there's never a situation in which one might use an unmanned aircraft. However, the idea that there are no alternatives and the blasé attitude towards the way in which they are used is the whole problem connected to them, which is what I was arguing earlier.


Well, I have no problem agreeing with you that their use should be done intelligently, responsibly, and with some oversight.
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Re: Drones in the Military

Unread postby James » Wed Sep 03, 2014 4:18 pm

bodidley wrote:The main issue is that drones are seen as more sanitary because there's no pilot at risk. But killing people is not sanitary. If you bomb someone from afar you're more likely to kill people who weren't the desired target, and you don't give the target a chance to surrender. I think their nature makes them generally merciless and indiscriminate, although they do have a limited capacity to observe what's going on on the ground. Those are useful characteristics on a battlefield but not very good in a place that isn't a battlefield. Frankly it's cowardly to slaughter an entire family in a building for the sake of not risking a life to apprehend the one person who is targeted. Those are the kinds of tactics terrorists use, blowing up hotels to assassinate someone.

It is a common misconception that the act of operating a drone is an impersonal thing.

The pilots who operate these drones must follow a target, in many cases, for up to a month. They see their target interacting with their family, friends, and going through their daily routine day after day. They zoom in with remarkable detail to identify their target, other people, and activities. When the order to fire comes down, it is done taking that history into account with current activities, and the person who pilots the drone, and has followed this person for potentially quite some time, watches as they, and any others around them, are eviscerated, and then they get to stay on the scene to verify the outcome of that attack.

You know what's impersonal? Dropping a bomb somewhere and flying back to the aircraft carrier.

Drone operators have gone on record in numerous reviews to describe a job which is far more personal than they would like, and which has a deep emotional impact on them. PTSD is very real among their ranks.

Maybe it's impersonal relative to military specialists storming in and firing a gun at someone. But if it seems impersonal even on the receiving end relative to being struck by a bomb it may be because you don't see the drone while at least you might see the plane, or simply because the drone is new. One thing is true in any case, though. Civilian casualties caused by a drone strike are far fewer than those associated with any other kind of air strike, which ties back into the complex formula of war and ethics that I was thinking about when I created this topic.
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Re: Drones in the Military

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Thu Sep 04, 2014 4:00 am

I feel I would be remiss if I didn't link this excellent piece, which takes the form of a Platonic dialogue between an ambassador (identifying with the neoconservative position), a talk-show host (identifying with Middle America), a professor (identifying with an academic American or Western European Christian position) and a Russian scientist (identifying with the realist position). It's very good as an exploration of the moral and political consequences of torture in its own right, but this part, touching indirectly on the use of drones, is of particular interest:

Paul Grenier wrote:PROFESSOR. But morality is not what I am talking about. Or rather, it is not the only thing I am talking about. And neither was Solovyov. Neither of us would make our decisions about how we fight depend on whether the enemy is more or less ‘good’ than we are. Let us hope that our enemies are always somewhat ‘less good’ than we. But even if a given enemy is utterly barbarian – as were the Nazis during WWII – it changes nothing in one crucial regard. In fact, in Solovyov’s Three Conversations – to be precise it was the first one, called War – this very point is addressed.

In each Conversation, a different character takes the lead and expresses some portion of a larger truth. In the section on war the lead is taken by a Russian General, and he describes the enemy he confronted during one of his campaigns in the Caucasus (this is all taking place during the Russo-Turkic War of the late 19th century) as veritable “devils.” These so-called devils – none of whom are Muslims, Solovyov emphasizes, by the way – are mercenaries from some tribe or other and they have just completed the massacre of an entire Armenian village. They impaled babies on poles and then lit them on fire before the very eyes of their mothers, who were tied to cartwheels and forced to watch. The Cossack regiment commanded by the General gets word that this same detachment of irregulars – which heavily outnumbers them – is on its way to another village where it will certainly do the very same thing. The enemy force had left on horseback an hour earlier and there seemed no way to stop them from succeeding …

TALK SHOW HOST. My goodness, what a story! Has anyone made this into a film yet?

PROFESSOR. Not to my knowledge. Should I tell you how it turns out?

TALK SHOW HOST: Yes! [the others chime in, urging him to continue]

PROFESSOR. Well, the Russian General and his Cossacks come across an old man who had hid in a well during the massacre, and he shows them how to cut off the enemy by taking a little-known route through a narrow mountain gorge. The General and his troops manage to emerge, single file, on the other side of the mountain just in time to set up a few cannons and confront the enemy, the aforementioned ‘devils,’ in battle … Wait, let me correct that. The general first sets his men to mask his three cannons from view and then sends a small detachment of Cossacks on horseback to engage and bait the enemy. Several Cossacks fall, shot by the enemy, but they continue forward until, suddenly, exactly according to plan, they wheel their horses around and beat a hasty retreat. As the Cossack horsemen approach their comrades the General gives the signal: the Cossack horsemen immediately scatter left and right and then all three cannons discharge at once. The surprise effect turns out just as the General had hoped. The enemy flees in disorderly retreat, the Cossacks counter-attack and saber them to the last man!

Now listen. Solovyov, through the General, makes it very clear that had the Turkish irregulars, those so-called devils, continued their charge after the initial cannonade, the Cossacks would themselves have been massacred to the last man. They would never have had the chance to re-load. But instead, the bad guys retreated and the Cossack cavalrymen finish them off. After which of course the Cossacks, whom the general describes as scoundrels, pilfer the dead for anything they can steal. In other words, both sides are morally questionable, but under the circumstances, it was clearly preferable, in the moral sense, that thieving Cossacks should have won, and barbarians who roast babies alive should have been stopped.

AMBASSADOR. Wait a minute. I thought you said the point was all about not making moral comparisons, but now it sounds like this is precisely what you are doing! The Cossacks, though imperfect, were morally superior to those barbaric mercenaries, which is why we are glad that the former and not the latter won the battle. Am I missing something here?

PROFESSOR. Only one thing, and if you will continue listening I will tell you what it is. Even given the extreme barbarity of these irregulars, Solovyov still considered it a condition of justice—in other words, of a just war—that both sides be at risk. If these ‘devils’ had been captured and disarmed, or had been caught in their sleep, it would not have been the same at all. What Solovyov was saying is that human community extends beyond all moral comparisons. Kahn affirmed a community of human equality between the Kosovars and the NATO troops, presumably because he felt that the Kosovars in this situation were in the right. But Solovyov’s logic goes beyond that. Even where, in the moral sense, there is complete inequality between the two sides, universal human solidarity is not negated, because human equality is in the first instance an ontological, and not a moral category.


This is salient particularly to the use of drones because, even though we are supposedly using drones on 'barbarians' who do horrific things - perhaps not on the same level as spitting babies on poles and roasting them, the way Solovyov's 'barbarians' do, but probably not much better given what ISIS is doing in Iraq - the questions of risk and of justice still loom large in the way we think about this particular issue, as bodidley has kindly pointed out.

James, I'm not sure the risk of PTSD counts for very much in cases like this, because we are never talking about drone 'pilots' risking their lives in the line of duty the way even a bomber pilot would do. There's a definite difference in kind. A militant or a terrorist can ostensibly defend himself from the man who pulls the trigger in a fighter, or who opens the bay doors of a bomber, in a way he cannot possibly do from the man who pulls the trigger in a drone-pilot's office. There is a breach of human solidarity in the use of drones - a mechanisation of war, in short - of a type which signals a quantum leap in removing the human element from war, eliminating risk and stripping our enemies of the dignity of even being able to defend themselves. It might be a long leap from there to treating domestic dissidents like chattel for slaughter, HYDRA-style (spoiler warning for those of you who haven't seen the movie yet), or it might be a depressingly short one. But I'm certainly not comfortable with the direction in which drone use takes us in terms of how we think about and 'do' war.
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Re: Drones in the Military

Unread postby James » Thu Sep 04, 2014 5:16 pm

WeiWenDi wrote:This is salient particularly to the use of drones because, even though we are supposedly using drones on 'barbarians' who do horrific things - perhaps not on the same level as spitting babies on poles and roasting them, the way Solovyov's 'barbarians' do, but probably not much better given what ISIS is doing in Iraq - the questions of risk and of justice still loom large in the way we think about this particular issue, as bodidley has kindly pointed out.

For what it's worth, I'm not sure many people here buy in to the 'barbarians' generalization.

WeiWenDi wrote:James, I'm not sure the risk of PTSD counts for very much in cases like this, because we are never talking about drone 'pilots' risking their lives in the line of duty the way even a bomber pilot would do. There's a definite difference in kind. A militant or a terrorist can ostensibly defend himself from the man who pulls the trigger in a fighter, or who opens the bay doors of a bomber, in a way he cannot possibly do from the man who pulls the trigger in a drone-pilot's office. There is a breach of human solidarity in the use of drones - a mechanisation of war, in short - of a type which signals a quantum leap in removing the human element from war, eliminating risk and stripping our enemies of the dignity of even being able to defend themselves. It might be a long leap from there to treating domestic dissidents like chattel for slaughter, HYDRA-style (spoiler warning for those of you who haven't seen the movie yet), or it might be a depressingly short one. But I'm certainly not comfortable with the direction in which drone use takes us in terms of how we think about and 'do' war.

First and foremost, drones do not remove the human element from war. Humans are still deciding who to kill. Drones just become incrementally less human for the target, who has been selected by the authorities that be to be executed regardless. How to compare that to a modern aircraft used by the US military? Any notion on the target's end that they could have defended themselves from a jet is psychological. The great leap in warfare becoming less 'personal' occurred when we started killing people with bombs and missiles instead of bullets. Or perhaps less personal when we started using bullets or arrows instead of knives and clubs. I'll play devil's advocate and argue that a drone becomes overall more personal. Incrementally less so for the target, but far more so for the person opting to take that life. The jet pilot releases their missile at given coordinates and flies back to base or aircraft carrier, without seeing the result of their strike or even necessarily knowing who was targeted. There's also something to be said for accountability. The drone operator individually knows more about what is happening than the fighter pilot dropping their payload.

Another legitimate grievance, though—drone strikes far more easily operate within a country's border without that country's knowledge. This is something the United States is doing.

Rounding back, and acknowledging that to discuss the morality of use of drones is awkward in that it necessarily skirts discussion of the morality of the war taking place as a whole—a given decision to take one or many lives—I do believe all of this must be weighed against collateral damage. Actual armed invasion—the most personal form of war we know today—carries as huge cost in terms of civilian and innocent lives lost. Not only are more civilians killed as a matter of operation, but putting human beings on the ground provides greater opportunity for an individual to carry out unjust acts. Take a step back to bombing and missiles. These result in less civilian and innocent casualties then land warfare, but still result in plenty—you likely don't have as much information about your target (though now this can be combined with drone use), and you still have a typically larger blast radius and potentially less control. If you're going to set about the task of killing specific people, drones are a fantastic tool to do it in terms of minimizing casualties of others. I think that's a consideration worth weighing alongside other factors.

This isn't really an argument for or against drones. It's a subject I'm still sorting through in my head. One thing, though: they're not going anywhere. Drones are far cheaper than other alternative options, a lost drone does not betray significant technology to the enemy, and a lost drone does not cost a life from the perspective of the side operating that drone. It satisfies a range of military objectives that scale through history. This is a technology which is going to become more commonplace across the world as countries advance enough to use it.

P.S. I haven't yet read what you linked. I intend to as soon as I can. It looks very interesting.
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