In politics and war, what we call drones are termed "unmanned combat aerial vehicles" (UCAVs). Specifically, UCAVs are armed aircrafts with no human pilot.
Drones aren't new or uniquely American. Development began in several countries in the early 1900's, leading to the first use of a UCAV by the Germans during World War II. In the 1960's, U.S. used drones for surveillance during the Vietnam War. In the 1970's, Israel developed a light model similar to what the U.S. uses today. Today, the U.S. deploys UCAVs to conflicts around the world, particularly Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
However, frequent drone use is new. The number of UCAV strikes has risen dramatically over the last 8 years alone: the Obama administration has launched approximately 500 strikes, compared to around 50 during the Bush administration.
Further, approval of drone use is largely American. 65% of Americans believe the U.S. government should use drones to launch airstrikes against suspected terrorists abroad. However, in a recent Pew survey (in map form above), the majority disapprove of drone use in 85% of the countries surveyed.
Why is it important?
Drones have become a defining feature of the Obama presidency and the American "War on Terror." Data is scarce, but conservative estimates put the number of reported deaths by drone at around 4,000 in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Almost 1,500 were reportedly civilians; at least 200 were children. Drone attacks have also killed 4 U.S. citizens.
Arguably, many strikes would take place with manned aircraft if drones were unavailable. Further, issues that are often tied to drones are equally problematic with manned aircraft--for example, the infamous "double-tap" strategy and national sovereignty. But the use of unmanned machines prompts debate on efficacy, safety, and morality.
Backup for a debate over family dinner or friendly drinks. This new section outlines each side's point of view. What's yours?
Drones encourage more frequent strikes, don't hold politicians accountable, and fuel anti-American feeling worldwide.
Individual drone strikes may kill fewer people-- but not if they encourage more frequent use. Data is difficult to find, but the threshold of sending out a machine is less than that of a manned aircraft.
The U.S. claims it only uses drone strikes on an "imminent threat," but reports reveal the standard doesn't require actual knowledge of any specific attack. The U.S. asserts it only uses drone strikes against "militants," but documents show the CIA counts able-bodied men as militants without any proof of terrorist affiliation.
Drones create an environment in which the U.S. uses malleable criteria to frequently justify any killing. The result is even more widespread fear and hatred of Americans in terrorist hotspots abroad. We're better off without it.
Drones are significantly more accurate, less costly, and less dangerous to civilian lives than any realistic alternative.
Researchers have repeatedly shown that drones decrease the proportion of civilian deaths. Civilian victims are 20% of deaths during drone warfare, versus anywhere from 30-80% in other conflicts.
Critics say that without risk to American lives we have a lower barrier to attack and will do so more frequently. But the idea that we should put lives at risk in order to deliberately hobble ourselves is chilling and irresponsible.
Similarly, the feeling that drone warfare is disturbing is simply not worth putting a pilot in danger.
We have a responsibility to protect the lives American citizens and innocent civilians around the world-- which means using drones.
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