As U.S. President Barack Obama amps up his Drone War, targeting suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the public is starting to ask questions, and so are the experts. There are strong arguments on both sides. Proponents of the drones say they can reach where traditional military weapons can't and that they reduce collateral damage and civilian casualties. Others fear they are making war too easy and lack transparency and accountability.
PBS Newshour on Monday night spoke to Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap, executive directory of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University Law School. Dunlap also served as a top lawyer in the Air Force. Dunlap tells PBS that the drones allows the military, or the C.I.A., to retrieve the necessary intelligence before an attack occurs, limiting mistakes and civilian deaths.
"This is a way of using technology in a way that minimizes the threat or the danger not only to the U.S. personnel employing the drones, but also to the people on the ground, because drones give you the opportunity for persistent long-term surveillance before striking a target," he said. "In addition, the technology, the weapons technology, allows for very precise strikes. Do innocent people get killed? Of course they do. But it is the nature of war is such that that is inevitable. This is a way of limiting those unnecessary deaths."
Arguing for the other side is David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame. Cortright says that although the drones can strike where foot soldiers can't, they do not resolve the political and social problems that give rise to terrorism in the first place.
"These weapons can destroy targets, but they cannot achieve the political goal of ending the threats from terrorism," he said. "And they have posed many grave dangers in terms of security, legal and moral questions for our country. As you said, the technology is spreading. As many as 50 countries may now be developing or purchasing this technology, including countries like China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran. Hezbollah has deployed an Iranian-designed drone aircraft."