Daniel Stefany looks at Drone Warfare

My research began with the idea of examining the internal pressures of the Presidency through a case study of Drone Warfare. Soon after delving into this hot topic, however, I became fascinated by the arguments for and against drone warfare and decided to redirect my paper towards the drone debate. I did my best to fully explore and explain the arguments coming from both sides of the debate in order to give the most thorough and thoughtful treatment of the subject I could produce. Instead of focusing on a singular argument for or against the practice (for example, its constitutionality or lack thereof), I chose to explore all of the different arguments and analyze them in juxtaposition with one another. This eventually helped me identify what I perceive to be an interesting catch-22 for the defenders of drone warfare on both sides of the isle—one which in the end led me to conclude that it would be in the administration’s best interest to drastically alter or abandon the current U.S. Drone Policy.

I found that the most important issue within the debate is whether or not the U.S. is at “war” with terrorists and whether or not the targets of drone strikes are thus “enemy combatants”. Traditionally, the American response to the international outrage at the collateral damage (even if small) of drone strikes has been that these are acts within a “War on Terror” against enemy combatants. This argument does indeed offer powerful justification against critics, because lined up against other modern wars, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Libya, the civilian-to-military casualty ratios in drone warfare compare quite favorably.[1] The deaths of innocent women and children are extremely regrettable but become costs of war from within this framework. However, this argument requires there to be an ongoing “War on Terror.” International law demands this, or the program amounts to plain and simple assassinations with bloody and unacceptable casualties. Nevertheless, even if we accept that this is a real war, the program remains in hot water; because while the international argument requires that the U.S. be at war, the constitutional argument requires that these strikes not be acts of war.

Domestically, the past two presidencies (which include both parties it should be remembered) have justified the constitutionality of the drone program on the grounds that drone strikes do not constitute acts of war and therefore do not need Congressional approval. The 2001 Authorization of Military Force certainly cannot be interpreted to cover the full extent of the drone program. As a result, if the “War on Terror” exists, it is illegal. Because of this, the argument in support of drone warfare becomes self-defeating. In my analysis, this served as the final nail in the coffin for a program with considerable benefits but ultimately unacceptable flaws.

By Daniel Stefany of Wake Forest University

[1] CNN Wire Staff, “Drone Strikes Kill, Maim, and Traumatize Too Many Civilians, U.S. Study Says,” CNN U.S. edition, September 25th, 2012.

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One Response to Daniel Stefany looks at Drone Warfare

  1. I agree with your position questioning the “legality” of the program. I have recently written a piece outlining expanded presidential powers in recent history in relation to the PRISM program here: http://redandbluepoliticing.blogspot.com/2013/06/government-surveillance-and-expanded.html

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