Unfriendly Skies

Have We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Drone?

Polls show that the vast majority of Americans do not want armed drones circling their own neighborhoods. Who could blame us for not wanting to be taken out by a killing machine operated by someone hunkered down thousands of miles away? Then again, maybe we haven’t given the precision and efficiency of drones enough thought.

According to Pir Zubair Shah, a former New York Times reporter now at the Council on Foreign Relations, a tribal leader living in Pakistan’s South Waziristan told him he’d rather have a drone destroy one room of his house than have a bomb or artillery strike demolish his whole village. From his experience, drones are the lesser of two or three evils.

Targeted killings by armed drones have become part of the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy. Though the war against Al Qaeda has been used to justify the use of drones, targeted killings lack a firm legal and ethical grounding in U.S. and international law. Nevertheless, their use by the United States is setting an important precedent, which should be getting more attention than it is.

Some have suggested that drones provide a great tactical advantage without really changing the ethical calculus of warfare. After all, they argue,...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.