Recently, strong evidence has begun to suggest that terrorists use drone strikes as a recruitment tool. Of course, the value of drones in the arena of intelligence-gathering and secret surveillance of foes (and even friends) is unmistakable. In warzones too, it can support ground operations in significant and even decisive ways. None of this is controversial, though the ones on the receiving end will certainly not like it. What is debatable is its use as a counter-terrorism instrument in theaters that are not declared war zones, or in cases where a sovereign state is not fully and publicly on board with this policy. Lack of transparency in regulations that govern this new type of warfare, the unverifiable nature of targets, and questions over the credibility of intelligence only complicates the matter.
Mark Bowden's important contribution to the drone debate raises critical questions that policy makers will be wise to consider for the future use of this new tool of war. One of the important arguments mentioned in the piece revolves around the notion that drone strikes might be less provocative than ground assaults for terrorists, meaning that standard warfare might create more terrorists than drones do. Lets first accept what is obvious: more civilians are killed in standard warfare, and the history of warfare in the 20th century sufficiently proves the point. When it comes to drones strikes, the ratio of civilian deaths is certainly lower, but the issue is not about the number of civilian casualties alone. The inherently secret nature of the weapon creates a persistent feeling of fear in the areas where drones hover in the sky, and the hopelessness of communities that are on the receiving end of strikes causes severe backlash -- both in terms of anti-U.S. opinion and violence.