As the United States military is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa, the United Nations announced it has begun an investigation into the legality of President Barack Obama’s drone policy. The U.S. drone program is seeking to expand to northern Africa in response to the increase of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist organizations in the region. Currently, officials have stated they only foresee flying unarmed surveillance drones from the base, although they have not ruled out the possibility of conducting missile strikes in the future.
While a potentially useful surveillance tool, the U.S. drone program, especially under President Obama, has been met with criticism and anger. The drone program has evolved from that of an unmanned aircraft securing surveillance and intelligence data on potential enemies to a front line weapon in the war on terror. Increasingly, drones have been used to carry out strikes on enemy operatives and high ranking members of Al Qaeda. Where’s the problem? The data collected by the U.S. does not match the numbers being claimed by those nations who have experienced an American drone strike. For example, a study released in September 2012 by Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law stated that the number of “high level” targets killed compared to civilians is extremely low – about 2 percent. Meaning, for every one terrorist killed via drone strike, 50 more civilians lose their lives. Is this an acceptable loss of human life? Does the U.S. have the right to make such a distinction when the civilians targeted are not their own?
The United Nations inquiry is seeking to establish if the U.S. is violating any laws through its use of drone aircraft. Many who have criticized the use of drones to carry out airstrikes are pleased that it is being reviewed. The U.S. has essentially claimed the right to declare people enemies of the state and kill them away from any defined battlefield. The civilian casualties which are associated with drone strikes have been largely ignored by the CIA, DoD and current administration. The increase in drone usage to carry out “targeted killings” has many in the international community worried for the safety of their civilians. Based on the successful terrorist to civilian kill ratio, America should seriously consider curbing the drone program before it continues to anger and alienate countries in the volatile Middle East.