Drone Strikes by UK and Pakistan Signal a Dawning Crisis

If there were a specific day to officially declare as the day U.S. drone policy became a standard for modern warfare around the globe, it would have to be September 8, 2015. That day saw two separate but undeniably linked events transpire: The United Kingdom announced that the RAF had used unmanned drones to kill two Britons in Syria and for the first time Pakistan used its new drones in a lethal strike in North Waziristan. Human rights group Rights Watch UK is beginning legal action to compel the British government to reveal its legal reasoning for targeting U.K. citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin and as well as Junaid Hussain, separately killed during a joint U.K.-U.S. operation.

Though lethal drone use has seen use by nations other than the United States (primarily Israel), it shows the alarming way warfare is being reshaped. Arguably, the unmanned aerial drone strike as a standard convention is comparable to the mechanization of infantry and cavalry between the First and Second World Wars. And much like that battlefield revolution during the first half of the 20th century, drone warfare in this century is enabling a brand new way to kill exponentially more individuals — in particular, noncombatants.

Unmanned drones are a technical marvel in their own right, certainly. More than that though, drones have prompted a sort of legal “innovation” that might be even more central to the type of battlefield revolution that is underway.

In the case of the British drone strike, many are questioning the government’s claim that the targeted individuals represented an “imminent” threat to Britons. This may sound familiar — it is almost identical to the legal justifications used by the Obama administration to target and kill U.S. citizens abroad.

Among the critics of the recent strikes are former military official Admiral Lord West. West says he is concerned such acts may represent “extrajudicial killing” and is calling for more transparency on how and why targets are chosen for lethal strikes. However, if the U.K. is to continue to follow the U.S. down its path to drones as status quo, the British outrage over such policy will eventually die down, just as it has in the U.S.

And why wouldn’t it? British politicians and military leaders have already embraced the transformative ethos of drone warfare; in a statement to the United Nations, the U.K claims its targeted killings were conducted in “self-defense.” Soon enough, citizens (and more importantly, voters) will come to view drone strikes as a favorable alternative to continued troop deployments and deaths, just as Americans have. This normalization of lethal drone use — even though it causes an extremely high number of noncombatant deaths and pokes convenient holes in civil and human rights — is central to the current metamorphosis of global warfare.

Then there is Pakistan, the United States’ uneasy ally in the war on terror and new entrant to the lethal drone game. The term “ally” is used very loosely, as Pakistan often makes a point to be uncooperative with U.S. operations, a policy which has the U.S. responding by conducting sovereignty-violating missions (the best known of these being the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad). As usual, this angers Pakistan, making its intelligence services even less compliant — and the cycle continues. Perhaps frustrated by this, Pakistan is joining in on the drone warfare along its Afghan border, maybe with the hopes to supplant U.S. activity.

Though Pakistan’s drone use is not surprising, it raises more concerns about the precedents being set and the dawning drone ethos in general. Can a nation conduct a lethal drone strike within its own territory? If so, must that nation (or at least, the area of drone operations) be a battlefield? What defines a battlefield? Can a nation target its own citizen within its own borders? (Surely if a nation can conduct a strike against its own people inside another nation, then this isn’t a big leap.)

Who is to hold the misusers of lethal drone strikes accountable when employed extrajudicially? So far the United States has been given virtual carte blanche by the United Nations and the international community at large for its drone strikes. However, not all hope is lost. Without a doubt, the global battlefield is on the cusp of a fundamental change to the way nation-states conduct warfare. Now that the crossroads have been reached, it behooves the citizens of drone-using nations to condemn their misuse. It is also necessary for the United Nations to step up to do what it must to close this Pandora’s Box.

Photo Credit: Stocktrek Images


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

Many of the science fiction writers of a 100 years ago predicted the advent of killing drones and the misery it would entail. Sadly, once such a pox is unleashed, it's impossible to get it back into Pandora's box.

KelDjabTeCrosse Dosse

It is a matter of time before some states acquire these drones or a re accused of having drones as Iraq was accused of having weapons of mass destruction. But which state has the most?

Deborah W.
Deborah W2 years ago

War is never the answer or a reasonable solution to differences, never was never will be, and so the wheel goes round and round but never moves forward. Sad how little we've learned through the history of past years.

Just wondering how we'd feel if drones targeted terrorists implanted within our own daily lives and locations. Will "collateral damage" hold the same meaning when our loves ones, family and friends, become just that easily disregarded? Don't think so. What say you ...

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

Mitchell D.
Mitchell D2 years ago

A watershed moment?

sandra vito
Sandra Vito2 years ago

thank you

Berny p.
berny p2 years ago

If people are within our borders they are within reach of law enforcement. People in hostile foreign countries are not within reach except by drone.

Drone strikes against these types of “citizens” don’t bother me. Warfare isn’t pretty. The fact that these were citizens of a western country is an accident of birth; “home” is not where their hearts were.

How very very rue!