In the first Persian Gulf War, a small group of Iraqi soldiers famously surrendered to an unarmed U.S. drone. Those Iraqi soldiers proved not cowardly in their fear of drones, but prescient: by the next Iraq war, the United States had in its possession a small but growing hanger of pilotless planes armed with air to ground missiles that would soon begin a campaign of targeted killings that has resulted, according to some estimates, in between 2,500 and 3,500 deaths in Pakistan alone. Outside of the United States, there are 75 countries that possess or are developing unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) technology.
The swift pace of the development and deployment of UAVs is unsurprising given the nature of the technology. Drones are politically expedient because using them does not require putting troops in harm’s way. Therein lies the danger: there is very little political cost associated with employing drones, thus making it easier for political leaders to employ force. Lowering this threshold will create an important problem in the years to come as armed drones proliferate, as unarmed drones already have. If history repeats itself, this technology will be used against U.S. interests in the not too distant future.
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