Zachary Antoyan is a political science junior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
Our popular culture holds that if the President of the United States ever needed to launch nuclear weapons, there is a shiny, big red button he or she has to press. This button, invariably, is inside of a bullet-proof briefcase handcuffed to someone’s wrist. It is the endgame, the last resort to remedy a bad situation should it ever be deemed necessary.
Pray it never comes to that.
And maybe it doesn’t have to, because instead of the blanket approach weapons of mass destruction take, the president can use something much more refined and much more precise. Valuing quality over quantity, precision airstrikes via drones can now be used to find and eliminate high-value targets with minimal collateral damage and a significantly reduced risk of military casualties. Cool. Modern military, less deaths and one step closer to letting Skynet take over (Terminator, duh).
Except these strikes and the use of drones for mere reconnaissance is in as much of an ethical gray area as nuclear weapons. And our president can, and has been, pressing this button as often as he sees fit. Think of it as an army of flying monkeys who fire missiles.
Coined by Theodore Roosevelt, the adage “Speak softly and carry a big stick” has never been more applicable to an action than with drone strikes. On the international stage, there is nothing more subtly aggressive than utilizing drones to eliminate enemies of the state. The United States follows through with these strikes the most, but many other countries are beginning to follow suit by arming their own surveillance drones.
It is here where we run into the issue of sovereignty. The foundations and reasons given by the state department that attempt to justify these actions are shaky at best, especially when it involves the assassination of a U.S. citizen. Apparently people don’t like it when you fly into their country, blow people up and dip out before anyone knows what happened. Who would’ve thought?
Yes, the benefits are great. It is easy to praise a system that can boast high efficiency and success rates abroad as well as an economic industry boon and substantial aide for police efforts at home. And if we are trying to be utilitarian about things — looking for the greatest good for the greatest number of people — then we may be obligated to continue with these strikes.
But recent reports on the remote pilots of these drones are showing greater tendencies toward being “clinically distressed,” and our generals describe the international reaction to drone strikes in such a way that “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.” This policy isn’t exactly making us any friends.
It’s especially worrisome when we lose those drones and other countries find them. The chances of Iran giving us back our super secret spy drone with encrypted data: zero. The proliferation of this technology only worsens our situation, and until we can fully understand the role these drones play both internationally and at home (which is another whole privacy issue), then we cannot afford to continue pushing the letter — or the button.
The monopoly the United States currently has on using these drone strikes is soon to end. With the rise in the use of drones in sectors other than the military, we are going to be faced with ethical issues that apply as much to the sovereignty of other nations as it does to the rights of an individual. The benefits of using drones simply does not outweigh the cost of unknowingly committing war crimes and rights infringement. Brace yourselves — never-ending ethical arguments are coming.
This is Zachary Antoyan, wondering how many chucks does a woodchuck chuck. Seriously, how many? Have a fantastic week.