by Robert Jordan Prescott, House of Marathon
Drones are emblematic of America's reliance on advanced technology in warfare and have become the principal instrument in the nation's fight against terrorists. While unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology is a few decades old, they have become indispensable to American military operations. The manpower-intensive nature of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the requirement for the unique intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities provided by drones by several orders of magnitude in just under a decade. Moreover, armed drone strikes have become central to American counter-terrorist operations in Afghanistan-Pakistan. In the parlance of national security practitioners, drones constitute an "asymmetric" advantage for the United States -- a unique means of warfare available primarily to one side in a conflict. Indeed, the success achieved by drone strikes, in tandem with the American surge in Afghanistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden in July 2011, have convinced national decision-makers that Al Qaeda is within "strategic defeat." The conviction would be welcome if it was indeed based on more than the impressive technological of remotely piloted vehicles. As many practitioners will caveat, the enemy has a vote, and in the face of overwhelming American military strength, it will readily employ its own asymmetric advantages. When American drones are contrasted with enemy stratagems, the alleged advantage evaporates. Ascribing strategic advantage to drones exaggerates their effectiveness and obscures needed changes in the way the United States approaches contemporary security challenges.