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Paris Feature: Stop droning about terrorism and reevaluate American foreign policy

“When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.”
– Nabila Rehman, victim of U.S. drone attacks

War has traditionally been an engagement between nations. In the past, conquering capital cities and forts meant victory. Before the War on Terrorism, there was no such thing as a “faceless enemy.” Much has changed since then.

In the past, responding to foreign attacks meant sending thousands of soldiers halfway around the world to be separated from their families, deeply entrenched in enemy territory. However, the nature of warfare in the Middle East has shown to be markedly different.

In response to the region’s unique circumstances, nations of the West, like the US and France have used, to their advantage, “faceless machines,” otherwise known as drones. The advent of drones has completely changed the nature of warfare in the modern world. Not only has it allowed western nations to be more aggressive in fighting terrorism, but it has also upset many across the Middle East. This anti-US sentiment has consequently contributed to the increase in recruits to terrorist organizations.

French President Francois Hollande recently made headlines over his decision to amplify France’s contribution to air strikes in the Middle East against the Islamic State’s strongholds. Leaders of other European nations, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, have extended a hand to France in its campaign. The central questions that we must now ask are: where does the use of drones stand in foreign policy, and what are the consequences of such actions?

Much to the satisfaction of many world leaders, the advent of drones provides an “easy way out.” Drones are extremely hard to identify and even more difficult to track, giving its owners license to operate carelessly without consequence. Faced with both strong support for and opposition against intervention in the Middle East, drones have served as President Barack Obama’s escape route regarding difficult foreign policy decisions.

Taking advantage of how difficult it is to track drones, US and other western nations have become much more aggressive in the implementation of foreign policy, almost to a point of complacency. International law regarding the rules of engagement dictates that countries have reasonable evidence that targets are actually enemy combatants, and not innocent civilians. However, according to the New York Times, the standards for engagement upheld by the US are quite different. Instead of using precise targeting, the US has significantly blurred the lines between combatants and civilians. According to The Guardian, at one point, the US State Department complained to the White House that the CIA “seemed to believe that any group of ‘three guys doing jumping jacks’ was a terrorist training camp.” In addition, according to the documentary “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” the rules of engagement were extremely insubstantial, as soldiers were told that they could shoot at anyone who “looked like a terrorist.”

Though quite contrary to humanitarian and international law standards, these questionable rules of engagement are often accepted, especially if combatants are also being killed in the process. Although enemy combatants may also be killed in air strikes, the truth is that such actions force civilians in the Middle East to associate the US with the image of a country that believes it can fly wherever it wants and shoot whomever it wants.

Although the US military has repeatedly vouched for the accuracy of drones, the truth is quite the opposite. Due to their inaccuracy in operating and striking, a large number of civilians have been killed. According to a joint study by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law in 2012, the government misreports data on drones’ accuracy in order to make them seem safer than they actually are. In fact, for every terrorist killed, 49 innocent civilians were killed, making drones roughly two percent accurate. Due to the extremely high death toll of drone strikes, multiple governments including Pakistan have called for an end to American drone strikes at the United Nations Security Council. However, such a claim was not taken seriously, as the US has significant influence within the Security Council, primarily due to its veto power.

Even if we were to put our humanity aside and admit that the US government must prioritize saving the lives of Americans, the use of drones and aggressive combat still serve a practical harm to its national security and initiative in the Middle East. In fact, the operation of drones has led to increased radicalization, and has aided terrorist organizations in their recruiting efforts. According to a study by the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and the Center for Civilians in Conflict, such a phenomenon is occurring because many blame the US, not the terrorists, for the death of their loved ones. The drone strikes are essentially the face of the US to many Middle Easterners. Terrorist organizations then manipulate such sentiments and encourage individuals to become “freedom fighters” that will bring down those who killed their sisters, wives, brothers, and husbands.

Drones are, technologically speaking, among of the most useful inventions of the 21st century thus far. They reduce the number of soldiers that are deployed, they provide countries with escape routes, and they save the government the trouble of having to process suspects in Guantanamo Bay. However, the truth remains that the moral and practical harm of using drones far outweighs the short-lived advantages associated with these unmanned aircrafts.

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