Whether counterterrorism drone strikes are effective is one of the major questions currently facing US policymakers. The objectives offered as justifications for these strikes are arguably vague and over-broad and therefore run the risk of taking on an endless character.
David Sterman argues that “endlessness” is a hazard that has not been appropriately addressed by past analyses of effectiveness and the potential for eventual US achievement of its goals. The failure to integrate this frame of reference could, Sterman contends, suppress the strategic thought needed to bring these endless war conflicts to a close while also securing American interests abroad.
Laura A. Dickinson discusses the challenges and limitations of applying domestic and international legal frameworks, including jus ad bellum and international human rights law, as the US conducts over the horizon, unmanned aerial vehicle operations, while US officials provide conflicting statements on whether the US remains at war.
Dickinson examines Mitt Regan’s book Drone Strike: Analyzing the Impacts of Targeted Killing [see also Regan’s article in this volume] and discusses the book’s significance in gathering important data to understand the actual effectiveness of drones strikes in combating al Qaeda and associated groups and the impact of these drone strikes on civilians.
Dickinson then discusses why the national security community might go beyond that data and reconsider the international and domestic legal paradigms under which drone strikes occur. She argues that we need to do more than simply change our understanding of how drones and their impacts fit within the law of armed conflict but rather consider a broader paradigm shift.
By allowing the executive branch to skirt legal rules that might limit such extraterritorial uses of force, drones contribute to ongoing declarations of wars with no geographical loci and no temporal endpoints. Thus, Dickinson concludes that from the perspectives of international and domestic law, the ongoing use of drone strikes must be studied not only for its effects on the ground but also for its effects on the rule of law more generally.
Has precedent eroded Congress’s war powers? James Lebovic looks to the various standards of social-scientific inquiry to suggest that an exclusive focus on legal analysis has unnecessarily limited the war powers debate in recent decades.
Lebovic finds that even though Congress appears to defer to the President based on war powers precedent, it is often politics—and not legal precedent—that explains Congress’s deference.
Lebovic finds that assessing rule-based, fact-based, and action-based precedents through social-scientific standards shows that Congress often defers to the President because of the political process. This social-scientific approach stands in contrast to prevalent legal analysis—and Lebovic concludes that today’s practitioners would do well to consider it as they assess the boundaries of congressional war powers.