July 13, 2012

Drone Warfare, Blowback and PTSD

In The Real Blowback Fallacy at antiwar.com, John Poindexter has good counterarguments to Christopher Swift in foreignaffairs.com.
It means that if five members of his group agreed that drone strikes aid in recruiting AQAP members, then roughly 3,000,000 other Yemenis must also support that conclusion.
He is spot on contrasting the local actions of AQAP with those of the US.
It certainly shouldn’t be the role of the U.S. to police Yemen, but if the money is going to be spent, I would rather see it go to feeding some poor family or digging wells in the desert than burning the flesh off infants or dismembering whole families at random.
Despite all the talk about precision strikes, the fact is that since Vietnam, force protection has been allowed to completely dominate over the need to avoid collateral damage. Even "precision" use of air force will always cause much more collateral damage than would be caused by ground forces.

As it happens, drone warfare can be even more damaging to psyche of the operator than participation in ordinary warfare. Going to work to kill people during the day, perhaps just kilometers away from one's home, and returning home every evening to spend time with the family, makes the killing a normal part of everyday life, causing a far deeper impact on one's conscience than acts that are made in the special circumstances of ordinary warfare. P.W. Singer explains it well in this video.

This problem has been well recognized by the people involved, but the solution proposed by David Axe a few weeks ago is definitely not the right solution.
A more independent drone could alert its controller for assistance only when it has spotted a likely target. The operator would give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for the robot to fire a weapon. With only minimal involvement, the human being could avoid feeling fully responsible for the consequences of the strike. Drones are already becoming more autonomous by the day, opening the door for a different emotional dynamic between them and their operators.
Besides being flagrantly immoral, this would just heavily increase the number of collateral casualties and cause even bigger blowback.