Ethical Issues in U.S. Drone Program in Pakistan
<Name of the Academic Institution>
The part of the War on Terror, which is commonly known as a U.S. drone program in North-Western Pakistan has traditionally become the area of ambiguous guesses and various speculations of political, legal, cultural and ethical nature. Unlike the invasion in Afghanistan or Iraq, this drone operation did not cause any formal violation of sovereignty of the nation, however it gave a lot of reasons for dissatisfaction for the Pakistani government and residents, American institutions and individuals as well as international organizations. The topic remains highly approximate, as there is little information available in the open sources regarding particular operations and facilities. It is quite clear, nevertheless, that the issue of drone application raises a lot of problems, and the significance of the respective ethical issues should by no means be underestimated.
The structure of this research will provide the optimal opportunity for disclosing the topic in all its complexity and ambiguity. The introduction is followed by the statement of purpose, which underlines the significance of the topic and the feasibility of the research per se. Following that one come historical background and methodology. The methodology section allows to narrow down the list of methods and techniques that should be used within this research. This section is then followed by literature review, as certain academic articles and books provide both the factual and methodological frames for the research, and they should be taken into account, described and analyzed properly. Analysis, which follows the review section, provides the necessary implementation of techniques towards impartial and comprehensive interpretation of the information obtained from the sources. The research ends with the conclusion which summarizes the main findings regarding the topic of the research and provides the unanswered questions which may be developed further throughout subsequent investigation.
The topic involves analysis of various aspects of leadership ethics regarding the ongoing drone war in Pakistan, initiated by the U.S. There are various articles dedicated to the indirect analysis of the operation (as the official data are mostly classified), however they fail to address the issue of ethics of this entire endeavor. The purpose of this research is to identify the main areas of professional and organizational ethics involved, structure the information and try to assess it from a different, often contradictory, point of view. This research involves a considerable amount of critical analysis and thinking as well as a cross-disciplinary approach.
The U.S. drone operation in Pakistan is a part of the War on Terror, which started shortly after the tragedy of 9/11 in 2001. In December of the same year Afghanistan, the home of the Taliban and Mujahedeen activists who were labeled as supporters of Al Qaeda, was invaded. Within a short deadline the entire territory of the country got under control of the Allied forces and the democratic government of Afghanistan, however this small, poor and landlocked country continued to obtain resources in order to resist the democratic forces. It was discovered that the South-Eastern border of Afghanistan, and respectively, North-Western border of Pakistan are being poorly controlled by the governmental authorities and are being perceived by terrorists as a supply line and a sanctuary. The arid highlands in that area are scarcely populated and have a lot of gorges and caves, therefore making patrolling both inefficient and dangerous in this regard. In 2004 the extent of the technological development of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency made unmanned reconnaissance and battle flights possible. The drones evolved over time, and by now some models may remain in the air for days and carry several air-to-surface missiles. There have been over 30 drones deployed in the area, and as of now, more than 3000 combatants and terrorist supporters were eliminated by them. Drones also provide valuable intelligence information for the land forces, demolish the terrorist transportation, supply and accommodation infrastructure. There is no official information, but it may be assumed that the usage of drones over such a long period of time might have lead to casualties among civil population and collateral damage. The U.S. and Afghanistan are not officially in the state of war with Pakistan, which makes the entire situation quite questionable and unclear.
Speaking of Pakistan, it may be understood why this whole issue hasn’t been settled so far. Being a part of the British Raj, the country got independence in 1947 and became a predominantly Islamic nation. Despite various attempts to gain a decent international reputation (reforms of the cabinet of Benazir Bhutto, participation in Peace Corps in Asia and Africa etc.) the state is now being perceived as underdeveloped, unstable and radical. The facts that Pakistan is involved in the never-ending conflict with India and that the country has officially declared itself a nuclear power, make things even more complex. The central government officially opposes the U.S. drone-related incentives on its borders and claims the territorial integrity to be compromised by such actions. There is no official military combat going on due to this reason, though.
It may be inferred from this background information that the drone program is a long-lasting event of a considerable regional significance. It has a strong impact on the political stability in the area and on the entire system of the international relations as well. It also caused thousands of deaths, and the justification of these casualties is yet to be justified.
The research of the ethical components of the drone program involve analysis of various areas of human knowledge. There is an academic issue that defines the main tools and techniques by which the topic will be assessed (“The Responsible Administrator” by Cooper, its detailed description is provided in the literature review section). The factual information that was accumulated through the open sources of information (scholarly and popular articles) will be analyzed through the prism of the Cooper’s methodological framework.
Throughout the analysis, it is important to avoid certain significant mistakes:
- Although it is tempting to turn this research into the operational chronicle, it has to be taken into consideration that certain specific events are not so important as the general paradigm of the program and its perception by various stakeholders.
- This program cannot be assessed from the point of view of abstract, universal ethics. It is more reasonable to apply the principles or real politics in the way that Morgenthau originally positioned them.
- This topic does not exist outside of the respective historical, political, economic and cultural context. All these factors need to be taken into consideration, as they allow to understand the rationale of the various stakeholders.
- Relevance and significance of the factual information regarding the U.S. drone program in Pakistan.
- Presence and validity of the ethical component of the situation analysis.
- Overall applicability of the source to the topic of the research and the possible value that may be obtained from it.
The main source of terminology and methodology of this research derives from the book by Terry L. Cooper “The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role”. The book was originally published as early as in 1978, and currently the 6th edition has been issued. This work is a valuable source of information, although it does not contain particular data regarding the drone operation. The main value of this book is in the set of concepts, which may and should be used throughout analysis of process and operation ethics within and outside an organization.
First of all, the book underlines the significance of ethics in decision-making process in public administration (Ch. 1, 2) and defines the existing antagonism between descriptive (virtual) and prescriptive (actual) ethical decision-making process (Ibid.). Furthermore, the author applies such categories as objective and subjective ethical responsibility (Ch.4) regarding administrative duties. Cooper tends to connect the issue of ethics to such phenomena as conflict of authority and maintenance of public trust. Cooper does not only describe general guidelines for public administrators, he also explores the theoretical background of the ethical decision-making process. He suggests 2 basic approaches towards self-assessment within the ethical context – the situational approach (which resembles the principle of Realpolitik by Morgenthau that was already mentioned above) and analysis of internal and external controls (this method involves proper knowledge and understanding of the theory of organization and it major stakeholders). The book stresses its attention on the issue of ethical integrity of an organization (Ch.7) and overcoming the challenge of unethical behavior of rivals and supervisors.
All these concepts are effective and efficient and can be used in a deep and profound analysis of the issue of the U.S. drone program in Pakistan.
The rest of sources may be divided into 2 major parts – scholarly sources and popular sources. The distinction in this particular case is, nevertheless, vague. Official reports are still mostly classified, and both serious researchers and reporters tend to make assumptions based on the governmental press-releases or even by gathering human intelligence information.
A valid example of such a mixed approach may be an article by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann “Washington’s Phantom War: The Effects of the U.S. Drone Program in Pakistan”. Despite the fact that it was published in a serious academic journal “Foreign Affairs”, it has certain elements of a newspaper report. The article briefly describes the history of the question and provides a logical justification of the subsequent actions, such as hunting down Al Qaeda leaders by drones in Yemen and Pakistan (p.12). It also mentions the possibility of collateral damage and friendly fire due to the technical imperfection of drones, however the authors obviously fail to determine the ultimate value of this program not only in terms of financial expenses, but in fostering the system of the U.S. national security.
The nature of the operation, which was literally called a war, has been reflected in another article, “The Secret U.S. War in Pakistan”, whose author, Jeremy Scahill, tried to catch the wave of the public interest regarding this question, and performed a structural analysis of the situation. The author managed to define the main target of the U.S. forces, as well as its transformation (from particular terrorist leaders to combatant groups). Despite the lack of scholarly attitude, the author successfully provides his thoughts regarding the operation, its impact on the system of the international relations and the undercover struggle that precluded it in the U.S. President’s Administration and respective members of the intelligence community.
It is not a secret that, despite the violation of the Pakistani integrity during the operation, the U.S. consider the country an important political ally in the region. According to the Congressional report composed by K.A. Kronstadt in 2009 regarding Pakistan-U.S. relations, the possible harm that has been caused by the American drones to the national and regional infrastructure and local population, was successfully compensated by various tranches of economic aid, as much as USD 3.5 billion by the end of the decade (p.3). The author also provides official confirmation of the acceptance, from the Pakistani side, of the significance of the counter-terrorist operation on its soil. This fact, nevertheless, remains contradictive, as there was no official confirmation found in other sources.
Other, less reliable, yet more speculative, sources include “The Predator War: What are the risks of the C.I.A.‘s covert drone program?” by Jane Myer from the New Yorker and “Insurgents hack U.S. drones” by Siobhan Gorman from the Wall Street Journal. The authors tend to speculate on the small and fragmented pieces of information and deliver their findings, which happen to be of emotional rather than logical nature.
The review of the sources leads to three serious conclusions:
- There are strong, validated and tested methodological tools available for the research.
- The factual information is scattered and mostly unreliable.
- There is a possibility to perform ethical analysis of the U.S. drone program in Pakistan using the general information about it.
As it was mentioned above, the main terms and concepts of the ethical analysis have been derived from the Cooper’s text. It is reasonable to assess each of the concepts separately within the given context.
Descriptive and prescriptive decision-making
It is clear that the nature of the program and respective preparation for it required the decision-making process to be prescriptive. The Administration and the C.I.A. could not afford the luxury of waiting for the situation to develop and get out of control, therefore they took the responsibility to conduct a preliminary affirmative action by setting up the program. It is understandable from the ethical point of view, as the national interest was at stake.
Objective and subjective ethical responsibility
There are 2 kinds of responsibility of the U.S. authorities that initiated and conducted the program. First of all, there is an objective responsibility for the security of the U.S. citizens both within the U.S.A. and worldwide. For that purpose the terrorists had to be eliminated as soon as possible. From the subjective point of view, the leaders need to consider the consequences that the program might have on their political parties, governmental institutions and the overall paradigm of the national development of the country, the Manifest Destiny. It appears that from the both points of view the inevitability of the program was acknowledged and confirmed.
Conflict of authorities and public trust
The operation was and still is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, therefore preventing the sensitive information from spreading openly. This is indeed a reason of concern for the general public, therefore making the issue of public trust one of the bottlenecks of the program. As the program is being conducted under direct order of the U.S. President, there is no visible ethical conflict of authorities. The Pakistani reaction seems to be quite a different matter.
Situational approach, internal and external ethical controls
Ethical integrity and unethical behavior
The program by itself tends to comply with the political aspirations of the U.S. It does, however compromise both the image and the current regional incentives of the nation by causing disturbance and provoking civilian deaths. This may be a ground for considering it unethical, but it has to be kept in mind that the point of view in this particular case depends on the position of the beholder. While it is a menace and a threat for Pakistan – how can a country be respected if it allows such acts of violation of territorial integrity and appears to be helpless to settle this situation? – it is also an effective remedy against terrorism and drugs trafficking for the rest of the planet, even if not all the members of the global community happen to realize it. The United States managed to detect and preserve an effective mechanism of fighting terrorists and saving own troops from immediate danger. From this point of view, American actions are logically and ethically justified.
This research is not an ultimate answer to the question of whether the current U.S. drone operation in Pakistan is ethical or not. There are several approaches to this problem, and in conditions of insufficient information and practical political needs, the very concept of ethics may be transformed. It is for the future generations to get to the bottom of it.
There are several elements that distinguish this operation from conventional warfare. Due to the reason that there is no official combat operation declared by the U.S. or their allied troops in Afghanistan, this drone program can hardly be judged in terms of court marshal and the law of wartime. It lacks such attributes of a military action as respective diplomatic note or declaration, it does not involve participation of any considerable amount of troops from the American side. It cannot be defined as a counter-guerilla operation, either. There are several organizations that are being hunted down, and this hunting is being performed according to some intelligence data obtained throughout the entire globe and being managed by staff that may be located thousands of miles away from the battlefield. On the other hand, this program may not be considered peaceful, either. Despite the fact that it brings (theoretically) peace and safety to the American nation, it demolished the Pakistani infrastructure, decimates its population and undermines the international reputation of the nation. This program is like a medal- it has two sides. The first side is the national interests of the United States of America, the other one – interests of all other stakeholders. Some would say that this program is a mean of solving problems of America on the other side of the world, as far from homeland as possible. It is partially an ethical issue to decide whether it have a right to do so just because it can do so.
Cooper, T.L.(2011). The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role (6th edition). Jossey-Bass.
Gorman, S. (2009). Insurgents hack U.S. drones. Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2009.
Scahill, J.(2009). The secret US war in Pakistan. The Nation, November 23, 2009.
Kronstadt, K.A.(2009). Pakistan-US Relations: Congressional Report. Congressional Research Service.
Bergen, P., Tiedemann, K.(2011). Washington’s Phantom War: The effects of the U.S. drone program in Pakistan. Foreign Affairs, Vol.12(2011), p. 21-35.
Mayer, J.(2009). The Predator War: What are the risks of the C.I.A.’s covert drone program? The New Yorker, October 26, 2009.