Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Essay: Targeted drone killing

A new technology, which reduces the incidence of occupation forces and civilian casualties, extends into a gap in the continuum between law enforcement and war.

This was first published in the Dayton Review on February 20, 2013. It is scheduled for publication in Chum for Thought: Blood in the Water (2014).

Targeted drone killing
We don’t seem to have a problem with missile-armed drones here in central Iowa, but there are those among us who are worried about black helicopters coming for them in the night. However, people in villages in other places watch armed drones circling overhead every day. Somebody (and anyone else near them) is probably going to get blown to bits pretty soon. There is no safe place to hide and there is no safe place for your children to play. That has got to get on your nerves.
The rise of global terrorism has required governments to develop new policies and procedures. This is unlike any war that has ever been and it’s not easy to wrap our minds around how things are having to change. Lethal actions are no longer taken exclusively against nation states, but against widely dispersed and diverse groups and individuals.
Terrorist groups often gravitate to parts of the world that have inadequate rule of law, such as effective law enforcement and extradition treaties. Still, they may pose real dangers to the security of the United States, its citizens, and to others that have the support of the United States. Further, available technology has the capacity to multiply the massive damage that even a small terrorist organization can produce.
Historically, military responses have required
the mobilization of nations, formal declaration of wars, and occupation troops on the ground. As the technology of war has advanced, the damage done to civilians has become too horrible and unconscionable. Mounted cavalrymen gave way to tanks, rockets, aircraft, cruise missiles, bunker-buster bombs, and nuclear weapons.
It no longer made sense to firebomb an entire city if you could target training camps, convoys, and arms caches. The course of advancing technology is to allow combatants to produce increasingly more precisely targeted damage with increasingly less risk to themselves and non-combatants.
Now, drones allow fighters to target  individual houses, vehicles, and clusters of people. This seems considerably more restrained and humane then carpet bombing much larger areas. This is a new capability and has produced changes in procedures for action and authorization of action.
I haven’t heard anyone point out that even municipal policemen may open fire on individuals that they, in their own judgment, believe to pose an immediate threat to others. SWAT teams may target those who pose a credible but less-immediate threat. We should recognize that drone strikes in otherwise-inaccessible areas serve to extend new technology into a gap in the continuum between law enforcement and war.
It comforts me to believe that our Commander in Chief inserts himself personally into reviewing intelligence and selecting terrorism targets. For those who demand oversight of the military; that is pretty much the ultimate in civilian oversight. I would like to think that a Congressional oversight committee also has access to relevant intelligence and the ability to provide feedback, even if after the fact.
In the end, I expect that well-informed responsible parties will continue to adjust strategies and tactics while outlying left- and right-wing ideologues will continue to shout out their particular fears.