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.
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.
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.