In the past twenty years, technological advances in robotics have entirely changed the way battles are fought. Drones, in particular, have been utilized by the US military in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East since 9/11. The use of drones has many perceived benefits, including avoiding US casualties, lower costs, tactical effectiveness, and fewer complications related to using a country’s airspace. Due to these benefits, Presidents of both parties and with different foreign policy goals have used drones to carry out significant military operations.
Despite the positive points related to drones, frequent criticisms are leveled at the US military’s use of them. In May 2021, the Biden administration reluctantly released redacted documents regarding the rules for using lethal force against terror suspects abroad set during the Trump presidency. The documents clarify that the Trump administration had weakened the loose policy guidelines set by his predecessor President Obama. The new rules set aside any meaningful oversight by Congress or the judiciary of the use of lethal force, including through drones.
President Joe Biden’s first year in office may point to a change in drone policy compared to his three predecessors. Biden did not authorize a single drone strike in his first six months. This ceasefire was ended in July 2021 with a series of strikes in Somalia against al-Shabab. A month later, the drone strike in Afghanistan caused ten civilian casualties, seven of them children. The outcome of this strike prompted severe criticism, particularly from congressional democrats, who called for systematic reforms centered on human rights and international law.
Despite the unfortunate consequences of the administration’s drone strike last summer, there is a debate occurring on drone policies. The use of drones has been minimized, officials say as the review takes place. The future of drone warfare is uncertain since there is a clear split in the President’s party on how best to proceed. The tactic of the Obama administration was to rely heavily on drones, which during his term killed 3,797 people, including 324 civilians. On the other hand, many others believe that there should be greater oversight on executive authority in these decisions and respect for human rights. However, the one certain thing is that the debate about drones will go on for many years to come.