A safer form of warfare

| Staff Columnist

Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. These countries are connected by, among other things, their lawless regions that are breeding grounds for terrorist organizations. Al Qaeda and other groups take advantage of the lack of any governmental presence to establish bases of operations and operate unhindered.

Despite the fact that the United States is not at war with any of these countries, and is ostensibly an ally of one of them, it has conducted extensive military forays into all three. Not in the form of invasions or covert operations—Osama bin Laden’s assassination being a notable exception—but in the form of missiles fired from unmanned aerial vehicles, known colloquially as drones.

If drones are not already the future of war, they should be. Boots on the ground will always be important in any war that requires occupation, but, as far as actual combat goes, drones are a superior alternative. Chiefly, this is due to the financial cost; the entirety of the Predator drone program, which has been active since 1995, has cost $2.3 billion. The total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by contrast, comes to between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. The wars are unsustainable, and it has long been a bipartisan belief that they must end. Drone strikes accomplish the goals of the war on terror at a fraction of the cost. As current and future tax payers, it is important that Wash. U. students bear this in mind, especially when we consider that some estimates place the current war cost at over $6,000 per American.

Drone strikes have something for the patriotic among us too, namely that no American lives are put at risk. The more conventional wars currently being waged have cost several thousand American lives, though, admittedly, it would be difficult to topple one government and install a new one without a constant military presence. Still, current military operations, particularly those in Afghanistan, need not be carried out by American troops at all.

With the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the goodwill the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 afforded us was squandered, and most of the international community harshly criticized us. But where is the backlash for all the bombs dropped on Yemen? Somalia? Many are unaware of the fact that the United States is attacking these countries at all. Even the strikes in Pakistan, which have killed hundreds of civilians, haven’t caused much of a negative reaction outside of Pakistan itself. The fact is that America can use drones to attack and destroy its enemies in any country, friend or foe, and, inexplicably, the world has passively given its assent.

Drones have been criticized, and rightly so, for their lack of imprecision. Civilian casualties are unclear outside of Pakistan (close to 1,000), but it is obvious that they cause less collateral damage than full-scale invasions. Nearly 1,000,000 people have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the couple of thousands, if that, caused by unmanned drones pales in comparison. Certainly, their success-to-civilian-death ratio is better; the six months after 2008 when the United States stopped asking Pakistan for permission to bomb it saw dozens of Al Qaeda officials killed and the highest disruption of that organization’s activities since 2001.

Recent years have seen America’s drone program expand and come into the public eye. It is not perfect, and it results in many more civilian deaths than enemy deaths, but it is carried out at a tiny fraction of the cost of a conventional war, saves thousands of lives—American and otherwise—and does not raise the same ire that a full-scale war does. Drones are an amazing innovation in war, and they should be phased in while troop presence is drastically phased out.

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