Paul Lushenko considers how Mitt Regan’s book Drone Strike: Analyzing the Impacts of Targeted Killing [see also Regan’s article in this volume] informs the national security community’s understanding of the public’s perceptions of legitimate drone strikes. Lushenko explains that Regan, in evaluating the effectiveness of the post-9/11 US drone program, raises an important question about the implications of public opinion for the sustainability of US counterterrorism strikes and similar operations conducted by other countries.
Lushenko argues that where most researchers understand public attitudes in terms of support and approval, Regan’s analysis suggests that perceptions of legitimacy are equally, if not more important for countries’ drone policies. While scholars, policymakers, and practitioners often reference legitimacy, they rarely, if ever, empirically evaluate this outcome, Lushenko argues.
After outlining the literature for public opinion and drone warfare, Lushenko evaluates and incorporates Regan’s insights on public opinions of drone strike “legitimacy” into an emerging research agenda that defines drone warfare based on countries’ use and constraint of strikes to prevent unintended consequences, namely civilian casualties.
Lushenko concludes that unlike qualitative studies that are difficult to falsify, replicate, and generalize, his proposed approach allows researchers to analyze empirically derived data using statistical methods to determine the public’s subjective beliefs on appropriate strikes.
Laurie Blank discusses a new approach to analyze the legality and effectiveness of US targeted killing. She suggests that targeted killing should be viewed through a lens that combines the effectiveness and legality metrics while also focusing on the essential issue of legitimacy.
Blank then explores the effectiveness of targeted killing through a legal lens by exploring three considerations: the role of legal compliance in maximizing effectiveness, the interplay between effectiveness and legitimacy, and the United States’ efforts to shape the law to enhance the effectiveness and availability of the tactic.
Blank concludes that targeted killing is an effective means to enhance legal compliance and achieve national security objectives in the short term, but she highlights that the tactic risks applicable laws evolving in a way unfavorable for U interests in the long term.
A central tool in the United States’ counterterrorism strategy over the past two decades has been the use of remotely piloted aircraft, more commonly known as drones, to target members of Al Qaeda and other associated terrorist groups. These drone strikes have been largely concentrated in northwest Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, although the exact number of strikes is difficult to determine, partly because the US is not always transparent about when it conducts a strike.
The use of drones for targeted killing has initiated intense debate over whether such strikes are lawful or ethical, whether they are effective in combatting terrorism, and to what extent they harm civilians. In this article, the author reviews both quantitative and qualitative evidence of the effects of US drone strikes on both terrorists and civilians, coming to several conclusions.
Mitt Regan ultimately finds that strikes against Al Qaeda leaders have neither caused the group to decline nor reduced the number of attacks it conducts worldwide. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that, while strikes reduced the number of terrorist attacks in areas where they occurred for up to four weeks, this effect does not last longer unless additional, ongoing strikes are carried out.
Regarding civilians, the evidence shows that the US has struggled to meet its own standard of near certainty of no civilian casualties, and generally drone strikes cause resentment towards the US in areas where they occur, although it does not support the claim that such resentment results in increased numbers of recruits to terrorist groups.