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November 08, 2009


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Indeed, history manifests itself into the present. We are supposed to learn from our predecessors' mistakes, but all too often, we make the same mistakes. It is true that war nowadays is made easier with technological weapons, but hasn't war been present throughout history? There is no era of the past that I can think of that didn't have some sort of battle going on. It's just now we use different weapons and tactics. Have you read Asia Chronicle? The site provides in-depth analyses on the conflicts occuring in and among Asian nations. It presents logically how conflicts arise. Worth a read I think. www.asiachroniclenews.com

Hi Hotaru,

Thank you so much for reading. I've received several very interesting comments to this post in emails. And, the comments mostly seem concerned with the practical issues. That is, if you have accurate intelligence (in this case provided by the Pakistani government) and if there really was no way to bring the terrorist in alive, the limited use of such drones should be kept on the table as one option.

The practical problems, as well as the propaganda fallback have been written about extensively in Mayer's article for the New Yorker (she also have an interview here).

Another friend pointed me to Michael Walzer's concerns-- which are mainly concerned with legal issues and questions about transparency.

Your question, however, is the only one that to my mind is significant. Are these drones just the logical next step in weapons?

I think when it comes to war and killing, before tackling the
practical, legal or realpolitik issues, I would think that one would want to first think about the ethical implications. Are these just the latest weapons in the history of warfare? Or is their use a significant break?

In Mayer's article she noted that a foreign British Air chief marshall in Iraq called this a "virtueless war" and I guess that is my question.

Ironically the US was itself opposed to the Israeli drone program because it stated it was against targeted assassinated killings by a government (ie, extra-judiciary assassination). This is Walzer's issue-- he wants a public list of who is being targeted for assaaintion.

There are two aspects of the US program which are of concern to me. The first is that the use of unmanned predator drones perhaps is the first time in military history that the the military/civilian and the combatat/noncombatant distinction has been completely blurred. Not only are non--military personnel doing the "button pressing" but sometimes these personnel are not even in the government! As they are employees working at subcontracted corporations. So, there is an entire economic side to the issue (US tax payers paying private corporations --who operate for profit--to assassinate enemies).

There is a book called Bombing Civilians and I suppose as soon as humans started using airplanes to deliver bombs the impact on civilians was exponentially increased (compare noncombatant deaths from WWI to WWII, for example) But I think-- even just removing the pilot-- so blurs the combatant-noncombatant distinction as to be at the very least worthy of public debate (after all Osama bin Laden was famous for blurring this very distinction, saying that God would make sure innocent martyred would end up in Paradise).

The author who wrote the recent book Wired for War also was concerned by how this change makes war beome invisible to the public. Mary Dudziak, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law notes, “Drones are a technological step that further isolates the American people from military action, undermining political checks on …endless war.” Drones widen an already gaping chasm between Americans and the realities of war.

Oh, by the way, I looked at Asia Chronical-- it looks great! Is it HK-based? When I lived in HK, I really enjoyed the media there, subscribed to the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, SCMP. Japan has nothing like it in terms of English-language media.

If you are interested I wrote this post about Hong Kong Cheers.

Recommended from Patrick O:


Within days of his inauguration as president, Barack Obama ordered the CIA to continue President Bush’s policy of attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones in Western Pakistan. By October of 2009, the CIA had launched around 80 drone attacks. These attacks cannot be justified under international law for a number of reasons. First drones launch missiles or drop bombs, the kind of weapons that may only be used lawfully in an armed conflict. Until the spring of 2009, there was no armed conflict on the territory of Pakistan because there was no intense armed fighting between organized armed groups. International law does not recognize the right to kill without warning outside an actual armed conflict. Killing without warning is only tolerated during the hostilities of an armed conflict, and, then, only lawful combatants may lawfully carry out such killing. Members of the CIA are not lawful combatants and their participation in killing persons—even in an armed conflict—is a crime. Members of the United States armed forces could be lawful combatants in Pakistan if Pakistan expressly requested United States assistance in a civil war to end a challenge to Pakistan’s civilian government. No express request of this nature has been made. Even if it were made, drone attacks are the wrong tactic in the context of Western Pakistan. The CIA’s intention in using drones is to target and kill individual leaders of al-Qaeda or Taliban militant groups. Drones have rarely, if ever, killed just the intended target. By October 2009, the ratio has been about 20 leaders killed for 750-1000 unintended victims. Drones are having a counter-productive impact in Pakistan’s attempt to repress militancy and violence. The use of the drone is, therefore, violating the war-fighting principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality and humanity.

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