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The U.S. Drone Program is Fatally Flawed

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  • Fighting Al-Qaeda from Within, Not Above

    Clip: John Kael Weston, a former State Dept. adviser to the U.S. Marines and journalist Ahmed Rashid tell General Norton Schwartz that drones are far from diplomatic and hurt forces on the ground in the Middle East.

  • Ahmed Rashid: Drone Strikes Open Pandora's Box

    Clip: Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid doesn't dispute the effectiveness of drones in targeting al-Qaeda operatives, but questions its legality and legitimacy.

  • Counter Strategy: Do U.S. Drone Strikes Help Al-Qaeda?

    Clip: General Norton Schwartz, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, defends drone warfare against claims that it's only effective as a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda.

  • Are Drones More Effective Than Conventional Weapons?

    Clip: John Kael Weston and Dennis Blair debate the merits and the drawbacks of the U.S. drone program, including its potential for collateral damage in civilian areas areas and its support of troops on the ground.

  • Drones Undermine U.S. Diplomatic Efforts

    Clip: Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid argues that the drone program completely diminishes the positive aspects of American diplomacy overseas, especially among its allies in the war against terror.

Debate Details

Remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, have been the centerpiece of America’s counterterrorism toolkit since the start of the Obama presidency, and the benefits have been clear. Their use has significantly weakened al Qaeda and the Taliban while keeping American troops out of harm’s way. But critics of drone strikes argue that the short-term gains do not outweigh the long-term consequences—among them, radicalization of a public outraged over civilian deaths. Is our drone program hurting, or helping, in the fight against terrorism?

The Debaters

For the motion

Ahmed Rashid

Pakistan-based Journalist & Author

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He presently writes for Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, The New York Review... Read More

John Kael Weston

Former State Dept. Political Adviser to Marine Units, Iraq & Afghanistan

John Kael Weston represented the United States for over a decade as a State Department official and political adviser. Prior to his war-time service—seven... Read More

Against the motion

Admiral Dennis Blair

Former Director of National Intelligence

Dennis Blair was Director of National Intelligence from January 2009 to May 2010, leading sixteen national intelligence agencies and administering... Read More

General Norton Schwartz

Former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force

Norton ("Norty") Schwartz retired as the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (CSAF) in 2012, after serving for over 39 years in the Air Force. Schwartz... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The lower perceived costs of using drones—in dollars and lives lost—have led to their overuse.
  • There is no clear legal framework for their use. When the rest of the world catches up and develops their own drone technology, the lack of legal norms will have long-term ramifications.
  • By choosing a quick fix to terrorism, we are abandoning real strategy, all the while alienating and radicalizing local populations.
Against The Motion
  • The use of precision drone strikes has decimated al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, while limiting collateral damage.
  • Drones are an important part of our counterterrorism efforts, allowing us to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence that would otherwise be impossible.
  • We cannot ignore the value of keeping U.S. troops out of harm's way, and the cost savings of using unmanned aircrafts.

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The Research

The Research

Remarks by the President at the National Defense University
May 23, 2013

A transcript of President Obama’s speech on U.S. drone and counterterror policy.

Drones Best Weapons We've Got for Accuracy, Control, Oversight; Critics Don't Get It

David Deptula
February 15, 2013

The critics don’t understand the reality of “drone” operations, nor do they comprehend that our adversaries are most certainly conducting an aggressive perception management campaign on this issue – a very effective one if the recent hysteria over RPA use is a measure of effectiveness.

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies

Micah Zenko
January 1, 2013

This report analyzes the potentially serious consequences, both at home and abroad, of a lightly overseen drone program and makes recommendations for improving its governance.

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