Top CIA and military officials warn US drones could create endless war


Top officials late of the CIA, Army, and Department Defense agree, according to a just-out non-partisan panel report: the United States’ use of drones is dangerous, risking both war without end and a global drone arms race. Their public arguments parallel a largely unseen debate inside the US government over how to control the spread of unmanned combat vehicles around the world.

The views from these officials came from in a report published by the Stimson Center. But this isn’t your average, boring think-tank white paper: it represents the consensus view of a task force made up largely of former high-level government officials. The task force’s two chairs were Rosa Brooks, a former Counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and General John Abizaid, formerly the head of US Central Command.

The task force’s argument, unlike a lot of the debate over drones, is pretty subtle. Their position isn’t that drones are intrinsically unlawful or overly destructive. Rather, it’s that drones create incentives for policy choices that could have devastating consequences.

Drones are really well-suited to targeting small clusters of targets. They can fly much longer than conventional planes, allowing them to follow targets until they’ve got a good shot. They fly low for precision targeting. And they don’t put US pilots at risk.

The problem with all this, according to the report, is that these capabilities make it hard for US policymakers to resist constantly employing small-level drone strikes around the world:

While we do not believe that UAV strikes cause disproportionate civilian casualties or turn killing into a “video-game,” we are concerned that the availability of lethal UAV technologies has enabled US policies that likely would not have been adopted in the absence of UAVs. In particular, UAVs have enabled the United States to engage in the cross-border use of lethal force against targeted individuals in an unprecedented and expanding way, raising significant strategic, legal and ethical questions.

If you’ve got what seems like a cost-free way to take out potential threats to the United States, why would you ever stop using it? And that way, the report warns, lies perpetual war.

The Stimson task force identifies a number of specific problems within the larger problem of a future of constant drone strikes. First, ease of drone strikes makes it easy to avoid thinking strategically about..

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