One of the major ethical issues surrounding drone strikes is the matter of civilian casualties. Obviously, if a drone strike is occurring, someone has done something to warrant said strike (we hope – thanks to the nature of classified CIA operations overseas, we’ll probably never know). If a target is identified, how many civilians does “minimal civilian casualties” translate into? Can we even quantify and justify how many lives must be sacrificed in order to obtain just a single target? The truth is that we are so bad at quantifying this that we do not even know how many ‘innocent’ people we have killed in this war on terror. The fact that there are no truly accurate counts of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes is beyond alarming, as is that men can be branded as ‘militants’ as apposed to ‘civilians’ so as to not contribute to the count of ‘civilian’ deaths due to drone strikes. For the most part, militarized drone usage is wholly unregulated (to the public, at least). It is understandable that most information or intelligence regarding drones be classified, but some sort of structural regulations should be put in place (publicly) to justify attacks that utilize drones.
At the end of the day, we are all stuck in this ostensibly never-ending war on terror. Just as ceaseless is the U.S.’s lust to aggressively thwart terrorists across the globe. In doing so, we are trying to yield the most results (dead terrorists) while also yielding the least amount of collateral damage. The Obama administration proclaims four criteria for the use of unmanned combat drones: the target of a drone attack must be, first, a “senior operational leader”, second, poses an “imminent threat” to American national security and whose capture is, third, “infeasible,” and finally, the drone attack itself must be consistent with “law of war principles.” This might seem all nice and tidy, but the problem arises when we blatantly disregard these guidelines. We have increasingly targeted what have been described as “mere foot soldiers” whose case can hardly be called an “imminent” threat to the United States. Instead of compiling a list of possible leaders, we monitor ‘suspicious’ activity and behavior which causes us to mistake innocent civilians as enemy threats. What might be an even more egregious act of insolence is that our current drone policy is ethically problematic and could very well be out of sync with “law of war principles.”
Does this mean we should stop the use of drones? No, they are inherently more efficient and are decreasing civilian casualties every day but they cannot continue to go completely unregulated. While drone strikes might appear to be the safest option, they are far from the best. There must be a system of checks and balances put in place so that we can make smarter, better-informed decisions regarding drone strikes. If we manage to do so, collateral civilian causalities should decrease and the toll on our prestige abroad might start to mend. It can be only through placing fail-safes on our drone program that we can turn the lesser of many evils into our best opportunity.