Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Drone War – Victory or Defeat

When the American government kills its citizens with missiles fired from drones, all of us are confronted by serious constitutional and moral issues: Whatever happened to the right to trial by jury? Is government not established to safeguard the life of citizens instead of killing them? If the police began to shoot and kill persons suspected of murder instead of arresting them to stand trial, would we not have to rise up in protest?

These questions have been discussed a good deal lately and we can only hope that this discussion will have some influence on government policy. The last I heard we still live in some sort of democracy.

But the drone war raises some other issues which have been neglected so far.

The first issue invites a parallel to atomic weapons. When the United States was first to produce atomic weapons, it had an amazing military advantage over all other countries. But that advantage was short-lived. In the past week North Korea – a country unable to feed its population – conducted another atomic bomb test. There are few countries in the world today who are not capable of acquiring their own atomic bombs. The accelerated victory over Japan came at a very high price-- a world that is considerably less safe than it once was.

There is no reason to doubt that many advanced and some not so advanced countries will have their own fleet of drones in a very short time. What will the world be like 10 years from now when everybody has their own drones flying everywhere? We may well be in a situation of constant air war. If the drones make us, Americans, safer today they may well make us a good deal less safe in a few years.

But has the drone war made us safer? Here we encounter the second incalculable damage the drone war has inflicted on us. The whole undertaking is supposedly top-secret even though public discussion of it is lively. But the government does not give out any information. The public at large has no information about its effects. We hear about civilians, about innocent bystanders, being killed by drones every week. We hear about the anger aroused by these attacks on plain people.

We are also told that these are "mistakes" suggesting that drones sometimes kill people whose death is to our advantage because they are a threat to our security. Now the government can say that but since the whole program is supposedly secret they don't have to back that claim up with any real information.

We do not know who the victims of this drone war are. We do not know to what extent their death protects us against terrorist plots. When we utter our serious doubts about the wisdom of the drone war, the government can blandly reply that we don't know what we are talking about and that we should let the military and intelligence experts deal with these questions which are too difficult for us to decide.

With respect to the drone war, ordinary citizens have no judgment because they are not given the information necessary to assess whether the drone war is justified.

In a democracy citizens have a real voice in government policy. They can have that voice only if the government inform citizens about what it is doing. Once the government becomes secretive and sneaky, the citizen is sidelined. He can watch and wonder whether the government is telling the truth when it tells us that the drone war makes us safer.

Our democracy is a direct victim of the drone war and its secrecy.

It reduces our freedoms as democratic citizens and our ability to participate in making government policy.