This article by Rosa Brooks on the US’ increasing reliance on drone strikes appeared last week in Foreign Policy.
In the article, Brooks argues that the low cost and political convenience of drone technology is blurring the line between conflict and non-conflict, with implications for foreign policy and for traditional definitions of conflict and traditional limits on the use of force in conflict. Here are a few sentences from her conclusion:
“There’s nothing preordained about how we use new technologies, but by lowering the perceived costs of using lethal force, drone technologies enable a particularly invidious sort of mission creep. When covert killings are the rare exception, they don’t pose a fundamental challenge to the legal, moral, and political framework in which we live. But when covert killings become a routine and ubiquitous tool of U.S. foreign policy, everything is up for grabs.”
I happened to read this article the same day that a chaplain colleague in the military called me to say that he had come across this blog (very flattering things he said, too) while organizing a symposium for military personnel involved in unmanned aviation and for the air force chaplains who minister to them. The discussions would focus on human and pastoral issues rather than on the foreign policy issues that Brooks mentions. The conversation with my colleague reminded me of how it is tempting to think of how the “legal, moral, and political” challenges in this kind of new technology have a direct impact on their immediate operators. The sniper, the artillerist, or the pilot, to give three examples, all share the UAV operator’s ability to kill dispassionately and from a distance. Their trades and the technologies they use are no less deadly that those of the UAV operator. The drone guy is not less ethical than the sniper. But if Brooks is right, and I think contemporary affairs are bearing her out, the drone guy, increasingly, will be the first military trade that governments give problems to because he is a convenient, risk free alternative to putting boots on the ground. And so my chaplain friend is right to focus on the minds, hearts, and consciences that operate these new weapons. I am looking forward to hearing the results of his symposium.