The drone war is not new. Beginning under former President George W. Bush, the United States has been using drone technology to take out targets for many years. The fact that drones themselves are being used is not surprising or controversial. It is an effective technology that puts fewer American lives at risk, so naturally it is being used. The problem is how drones are being used.
Drones are machines of war and, as such, it is expected that they should be reserved for war zones. Yet, since 2004, the U.S. has been conducting extensive drone strikes in Pakistan – technically an American ally – largely without Pakistani consent.
How is the unilateral attack on a neutral country not an act of war? What is it that makes drones an exception to the rules of war? After all, drones are just another piece of military hardware, so why do they have the freedom to seek and kill, while other military resources do not follow such action? The answer is that there is no difference. Drones should be subject to the same perceived limitations of usage as any other military device.
Now, if the casualties caused by drones in Pakistan could be confirmed as enemy combatants, the strikes would be more justifiable. But according to The New York Times, little effort is given to confirm the identity of most of those who are killed. In fact, any male casualty of military age – 16 years or older – is labeled as an enemy combatant. This explains the massive discrepancies between U.S. estimates of civilian deaths and outside estimates. For instance, according to RT News, between 2006 and 2009, the U.S. claimed a one out of 482 civilian death rate, when the number was actually closer to one out of five. Because of the extremely loose identification parameters, the rate could be even higher.
The unacceptably high civilian death toll combined with the blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is what makes drone usage unjustifiable. These are not precision strikes backed up by solid intelligence. Rather, they are “shoot first, ask questions later” attacks based on flimsy evidence.
As one can imagine, these strikes have been devastating to U.S. relations with Pakistan. According to a Pew Research poll that came out in June 2012, 74 percent of Pakistanis believe that the U.S. is an enemy.
To think that killing a couple of enemy combatants is worth turning an entire country against one’s country is insane. We should be working with Pakistan to achieve our objectives, not violating their rights and murdering their people. Through its drone policy, the U.S. has undoubtedly created enemies in Pakistan. We are not quelling a problem but creating a new one, one that may prove to be even greater than the first.
Fortunately, there has recently been discussion within the White House to scale down the usage of drones in Pakistan. Earlier in August, Secretary of State John Kerry communicated openness to the possibility of soon ending drone strikes in Pakistan, but at this point, nothing is official. Until then, we will continue down the wrong path, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a pit of instability that we cannot climb out of.