Opposition to Drone Use in Libya
Ken’s post and the comments following it display an understanding that drones are particularly well suited to this mission because their longer loiter time makes them more discriminating and therefore more capable of proportional strikes than manned aircraft. As someone who has personal experience with the difficulties of discriminating between combatants and civilians while accurately delivering weapons from manned aircraft in an environment like the one currently prevailing in Libya, I was glad to see this understanding demonstrated.
Unfortunately that understanding may not be shared by a meaningful portion of the population. There are two things working against this acceptance of drones as a positive addition to the battlefield. One is quite simply the Terminator-like creepiness of machines making war against men that many people have commented upon in discussing drones. The other is the perception that drones, because they are remotely controlled, are less accurate than manned aircraft. The opponents of drone use in Pakistan and Yemen, whose legal complaint was mainly about whether the legal threshold of armed conflict had been crossed or whether the boundaries of the battlefield were being improperly expanded, often highlighted the civilian casualties caused by drone strikes to support their opposition. This has left an impression with many that drones are less accurate and discriminating, but are used anyway because they are the easy, low risk answer to military problems (a problem that Ken’s piece on the “efficiency” of drones delves into more deeply). David Ignatius of the Washington Post describes drones as a “weapon that has become for many Muslims a symbol of the arrogance of U.S. power”. The subtext being that the United States does not care if it causes civilian casualties, particularly amongst Muslims, as long as it doesn’t have to put its own pilots at risk.
As Ken posits, employing drones in a humanitarian venture like Libya may help to overcome some of the legal objections that have been raised to their use elsewhere. But broader international acceptance of drone use is unlikely to be achieved until the general public has a better understanding of how drones can actually save civilian lives if employed correctly.