Friday, May 18, 2012

Drones & Accountability

After a back-and-forth with Dan Trombly on Twitter last night, I thought this paragraph from the conclusion of a draft chapter I'm writing might be appropriate:
The United States’ current accountability system for use-of-force decision making is imperfect. Unmanned systems are not the source of these imperfections but when policymakers rely on drones for both overt and covert uses of force, they take advantage of and exacerbate existing flaws in the accountability system. The primary advantage drones offer is that they allow policymakers to choose force without risking U.S. casualties. The absence of casualties dramatically lowers the political costs associated with resorting to force, making it easier for the President to choose force and undermining Congressional incentives to enforce supervisory accountability. The absence of casualties also allows the President to use force overtly and for long periods without triggering the WPR—even if the President acknowledged its Constitutionality. Although cruise missiles and in some environments manned aircraft afford policymakers casualty-free—or nearly casualty-free—use of force, these systems cannot match the precision, persistence, or flexibility available through drones. In combination, these features dramatically lower the barriers to using force. By doing so they increase the likelihood that policymakers will rely on force and that those uses of force will escape accountability.

All of this comes out of an article I'm in the midst of writing—a very rough draft of which is available on SSRN—and a talk I gave at the Patuxent Defense Forum in early May (that I should be reprising at the Center for International Intervention in July). 

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