I’ve posted on several items in the military/political news regarding the West’s increasing reliance on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (commonly called drones) to conduct military actions and extra-judicial killings as part what we have come to call the War on Terror. These articles have focused on the usefulness or counter-productiveness of these weapons on foreign policy aims and on their implications for military ethics and the laws of armed conflict.
Living Under Drones, a joint study by academics and Stanford and New York universities is the first, to my knowledge, to focus on the impact of drone warfare on a population and culture. The researches conducted numerous interviews in Pakistan, the main theatre of US UAV/drone operations. Their findings challenge the prevalent idea that drones are a surgical and precise weapons system, and suggests that a very small percentage of the thousands believed killed by drone strikes in Pakistan were actually key terrorist leaders.
This paragraph from the report (p. 11) is worth quoting in full, as it speaks to what the report claims is the impact of sustained drone warfare on the culture and lives of the people living beneath them:
Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry
that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured
victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including
important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the
attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and
children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.
Besides rekindling the ethical debate on whether drone technology gives the executive branch an illegal, or at least an extrajudical, power of lethal sanction, to my mind it also raises other questions. The whole policy of COIN (counterinsurgency warfare), widely touted as the only viable means of ending the wars of the last decade, and especially Afghanistan, rests on the idea of winning the hearts and minds of the people while isolating and fighting the insurgents. But if, as the report requests, drones make whole populations fearful and then hostile to the US and to the West, then is this technology working for us or against us?