At My Real Job: Drone Warfare

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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47 Responses

  1. Avatar Phil K.
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    says:

    Nit: “University of Notre Dame”, not “Notre Dame University”.Report

  2. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    Imagine what it will be like when everybody has drones.Report

  3. Avatar Pyre
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    says:

    It is an old argument that dates back to the crossbow (a weapon that one pope argued could mean the end of life on earth).  The further you remove someone from the actual act, the easier it becomes.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Pyre
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      says:

      A crucial point.  Like when citizens can send their own off to war with no shared sacrifice and no evident costs.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach
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        says:

        Aside: In finding a new game to play last night, I cracked Saints Row The Third.

        One of the first things you do in this game involves UAV drones. (You’re breaking into a military installation… you know what, I’m not going to explain it.)

        It was very, very weird to see footage that could have come from a Congressional Hearing being played for laughs. Almost creepy.Report

        • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Riding the tangent:

          I do love what that says about your character:

          Her:  We need guns.

          Shaundi:  I know a guy that can get us a piece.

          Her:  No.  We’ll hit the National Guard Armory.

          Shaundi:  WHAT?!?

          Her:  Are you going to say they don’t have guns there?

          I put the UAV in the same box.  This character is not going to do ANYthing small scale.  If she can go over the top, she’s going over the top ~and then some~.

           Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Ethan Gach
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        says:

        One common argumentative framework that leans in the pro-war direction is that the members of an all-volunteer armed force will know that they face a certain amount of risk when they sign up, so sending them is ceteris paribus more justified than sending a conscripted force.

        While this is certainly true, it is interesting and more than a little horrifying to watch as this mindset gets deployed in the service of having <em>even more</em> wars.  Surely the fact of an all-volunteer force can’t ever legitimize a hypothetical war that was of a purely reckless character or had a purely amoral purpose.  So how does this same fact legitimize marginal steps in either direction?

        Let’s postulate that this same fact, that of the all-volunteer force, justifies wars up to some limit <em>L</em>, whether in recklessness or in relative lack of compulsion on our part.  Grant this merely for the sake of argument.

        In the moral landscape before us, volunteers will enlist knowing that wars at limit <em>L</em> are expected of them.  But not beyond.  How strange and specious it will seem to them, after enlisting, to be told that they knew they might be entered into wars at limit <em>L</em> + 1!

         Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Also, I hate this commenting system.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Well put.

          The issue of recruitment leads me to believe that volunteer enlistees are not always fully aware of the exchange they are entering into.

          However, I’m largely in agreement with you, but would prefer that we as a nation stay consistantly on one side or ther other.  That is, if we’re going to have a volunteer fighting force, we need to confront that part of that means people are free to support/not support other peope’s choice to enlist, and that, it being an individual’s own choice, we owe them nothing outside of what was due to them according to the origional agreement they signed.  If in 10 years, they decide that agreement sucks and they regret making it (something that is probably rarely the case), it’s on them, like taking too many college loans.

          Or we go the other route, make X amount of service mandatory for all, and have each compelled to serve in what capacity they can, as they are called on to do, with the costs and benefits more clearly displayed, more evenly shouldered, and more explicitly declared.

          The idea of a volunteer citizen army in a democracy made sense back when revenues and authority were less centralized, and before their was a military industrial complex.  In the current period I’m not sure that combination is tenable, at least not in the form it currently takes.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Ethan Gach
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            says:

            The idea of a volunteer citizen army in a democracy made sense back when revenues and authority were less centralized, and before their was a military industrial complex.  In the current period I’m not sure that combination is tenable, at least not in the form it currently takes.

            The problem lies with the military industrial complex, I’d say.Report

          • Avatar Renee in reply to Ethan Gach
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            says:

            I have not met a senior military officer who thinks we should go back to conscription.  Possibly they weight too heavily their recollections of the Vietnam era forces.  But they certainly feel that the morale of the forces is much better when the members have ‘voluntarily’ signed up.  Keeping morale up is always a tough task . . . they don’t want to go back to a system where people are legally required to be there.  With the influx of technology, we can manage to have a hugely powerful, but smaller numbered voluntary force.

            Interestingly, this probably has the effect of reinforcing the separation of (not only the military but also) the military-industrial complex from society.  Which, I think we all agree, is bad.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    First a toy, then a tool, then a weapon.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Hrm.  How about…

      …Toy <-> Tool <-> Weapon <-> Toy <-> Tool <->….

      You’ve got something there, but I think it’s cyclical and you can enter the paradigm at any point…Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    The moral-distancing aspect of drones is a real problem, but as someone upthread mentioned, this is the nature of military technology. On the other hand, some people – like the CFR – think the Vietnam Syndrome was caused by shortening the moral distance of military action. The moral costs of war were made too apparent. So the real lesson of Vietnam was to not get involved in protracted engagements with TV cameras running.

    That’s why we saw methods change in Iraq I and the ‘invention’ of shock-and-awe. Get in quickly, kill-bomb-destroy randomly and indiscriminately, get out before nationalistic enthusiasm turns to counting body-bags and such. The premise, I guess, is that US citizens fully support slaughtering other people, but only in discrete time frames. So for these folks, drones are win-win: we get all the killing without the public ‘squeamishness’ about seeing US troops come home in boxes. For ‘those at the highest levels’, this might be justified as moral progress.

     Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    The Pakistani defense network could shoot down the drones any time they wanted. 

    They haven’t.

    The reason that the drones are being used is not to avoid losing pilots; it’s because the drone can stay on station for far longer than a piloted aircraft can manage.  The “humans at risk” thing is only relevant in situations where you’re trying to penetrate an advanced and hostile air-defense network.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck
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      says:

      The Pakistani defense network could shoot down the drones any time they wanted. 

      They haven’t.

      I’m pretty sure you’re right about the second claim.  I’m less sure about the first.

      The reason that the drones are being used is not to avoid losing pilots; it’s because the drone can stay on station for far longer than a piloted aircraft can manage.  The “humans at risk” thing is only relevant in situations where you’re trying to penetrate an advanced and hostile air-defense network.

      It’s also relevant to just war theory.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        If “just war” is your concern then we need to step back from drone warfare, even, because most of the weapons used by modern airforces are self-guided smartbombs that might as well be drones.  The only thing the aircraft pilot does is say “go to this point” and release the weapon; after that it flies itself.Report

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