Asked by The Universal Human and Civil Rights Union, from Brooklyn, New York
The Obama administration has increasingly relied on drones in its counterterrorist operations. And, as I explain in a recent CFR report, U.S. special operations forces are doing more things in more places than ever before. The heavy reliance on both drones and unilateral commando raids needs to be reassessed.
Due to the 9/11 attacks and the continued threat posed by international terrorism, the United States claims it is "currently at war with al-Qaeda and its associated forces," a conflict that extends beyond traditional battlefield settings to any country that is "unwilling or unable" to take action itself. The United States reserves the right to conduct targeted killings, although only against "senior" members of al-Qaeda who "pose an imminent threat the United States of America." Although the U.S. military has a vast array of tools in its arsenal, the primary vehicle for its targeted killings program are drones, which have been used in over 95 percent of the 420—and counting—targeted killings over the last decade.
Drones have become a cost-effective default tactic for dealing with potential terrorist threats since 9/11, but this policy could lead to drone strikes by other countries as well as pushback from targeted states, says CFR's Micah Zenko.
What is the Obama administration's legal justification for targeted killings? CFR national security expert John Bellinger explores this question as well as others with significant implications for U.S. counterterrorism.
CFR Fellow Micah Zenko says U.S. air strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas are ineffective as a counterinsurgency tool. He recommends that Washington create oversight mechanisms for its covert operations in the tribal areas and develop a comprehensive national strategy toward Pakistan.
"There remain distinctly different approaches to 'finding, fixing and finishing' terrorist targets. The two organizations also use different approaches to producing the 'intelligence feeds' upon which drone operations rely. Perhaps more importantly, after years of conducting drone strikes, the CIA has developed an expertise and a taste for them. The DOD's appetite to take over that mission may not run very deep."
"While drones have attracted considerable attention, we know little about how effective they are as tools of punishment and deterrence. In particular, it is not clear how, if at all, drones differ from other technologies of violence, what experience with broadly similar technologies in past conflicts suggests will be the likely consequences of drone strikes, and what systematic analysis of the available evidence suggests about the effects of the drone campaigns. This monograph seeks to address these open questions."
"Should the United States continue targeted killings in Yemen without addressing the consequences of killing civilians and taking responsibility for unlawful deaths, it risks further angering many Yemenis and handing another recruiting card to AQAP."
"The cases in this report raise serious concerns that the USA has unlawfully killed people in drone strikes, and that such killings may amount in some cases to extrajudicial executions or war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law. Like other forces operating in the Tribal Areas, the USA appears to be exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the region to evade accountability for its violations."
"For decades the model for understanding PTSD has been 'fear conditioning': quite literally the lasting psychological ramifications of mortal terror. But a term now gaining wider acceptance is 'moral injury.' It represents a tectonic realignment, a shift from a focusing on the violence that has been done to a person in wartime toward his feelings about what he has done to others—or what he's failed to do for them."
"The prospect of American skies swarming with drones raises more than just safety concerns. It alarms privacy advocates as well. Infrared and radio-band sensors used by the military can peer through clouds and foliage and can even detect people inside buildings."
Authors: Stanford Clinic and New York University Clinic
This report from the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic and New York University School of Law studies the extent to which drone strikes in Pakistan have conformed to international law and caused harm or injury to civilians.
The tension between Washington and Islamabad over the former's drone assaults on targets in Pakistan is rising. But a prospective geopolitical rivalry involving both countries has even wider ramifications.
The Council on Foreign Relations' David Rockefeller Studies Program—CFR's "think tank"—is home to more than seventy full-time, adjunct, and visiting scholars and practitioners (called "fellows"). Their expertise covers the world's major regions as well as the critical issues shaping today's global agenda. Download the printable CFR Experts Guide.