High-Level Bipartisan Report Slams Obama’s Drift towards Permanent War

Monday, June 30, 2014
MQ-9 Reaper drone (photo: U.S. Air Force)

Instead of shortening conflicts and making them less bloody, the increased use of drones by the Obama Administration might lead to never-ending wars, according to a new report.


The bipartisan panel that put together the report, led by retired Gen. John P. Abizaid, the former head of United States Central Command, and former Obama Pentagon official Rosa Brooks, said missions by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) could have the opposite of their intended effect.


“The increasing use of lethal UAVs may create a slippery slope leading to continual or wider wars,” the report said. “The seemingly low-risk and low-cost missions enabled by UAV technologies may encourage the United States to fly such missions more often, pursuing targets with UAVs that would be deemed not worth pursuing if manned aircraft or special operation forces had to be put at risk.”


The U.S. drone policy could cause Americans to cede the moral high ground if another nation uses UAVs in a way we object to. “Imagine, for instance, if Russia began to use UAV strikes to kill individuals opposed to its annexation of Crimea and its growing influence in Eastern Ukraine. Even if the United States strongly believed those targeted by Russian were all nonviolent political activists lawfully expressing their opinions, Russia could easily take a page out of the United States’ book and assert that the targeted individuals were members of anti-Russian terrorist groups with which Russia is in an armed conflict,” the report, published by The Stimson Center, pointed out.


The panel, which included former members of Democratic and Republican administrations, also criticized the administration for not conducting an analysis of whether the use of drones for secret killings is worth the price. “A serious counterterrorism strategy needs to consider carefully, and constantly reassess, the balance between kinetic action [use of force] and other counterterrorism tools, and the potential unintended consequences of increased reliance on lethal UAVs,” the report said.


Other recommendations by the panel included:

  • Improve transparency in targeted UAV strikes.
  • Transfer general responsibility for carrying out lethal UAV strikes from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military.
  • Develop more robust oversight and accountability mechanisms for targeted strikes outside of traditional battlefields.


The report did not recommend that use of drones be halted. “UAV technologies are here to stay,” the panel concluded. “Used foolishly, they can endanger our interests, diminish regional and global stability and undermine our values. Used wisely, they can help advance our national security interests even as we foster a more robust international commitment to the rule of law.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Recommendations and Report of The Task Force on US Drone Policy (Stimson) (pdf)

Use of Drones for Killings Risks a War Without End, Panel Concludes in Report (by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times) 

Increased U.S. Drone Use ‘May Create Slippery Slope To Wider War,’ Report Says (by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian)


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