Do drones undermine democracy?

Peter W Singer writes: In democracies like ours, there have always been deep bonds between the public and its wars. Citizens have historically participated in decisions to take military action, through their elected representatives, helping to ensure broad support for wars and a willingness to share the costs, both human and economic, of enduring them.

In America, our Constitution explicitly divided the president’s role as commander in chief in war from Congress’s role in declaring war. Yet these links and this division of labor are now under siege as a result of a technology that our founding fathers never could have imagined.

Just 10 years ago, the idea of using armed robots in war was the stuff of Hollywood fantasy. Today, the United States military has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial systems, popularly called drones. There are 12,000 more on the ground. Last year, they carried out hundreds of strikes — both covert and overt — in six countries, transforming the way our democracy deliberates and engages in what we used to think of as war.

We don’t have a draft anymore; less than 0.5 percent of Americans over 18 serve in the active-duty military. We do not declare war anymore; the last time Congress actually did so was in 1942 — against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. We don’t buy war bonds or pay war taxes anymore. During World War II, 85 million Americans purchased war bonds that brought the government $185 billion; in the last decade, we bought none and instead gave the richest 5 percent of Americans a tax break.

And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.

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3 thoughts on “Do drones undermine democracy?

  1. Werner Simon

    Better title would have been ………..Is our terminally stupid, psychotic MIC leadership doing its level best to hasten the destruction of the American World Empire! Your title is so old 20th Century liberal naiveity!

  2. rosemerry

    “In democracies like ours, there have always been deep bonds between the public and its wars.”

    Pity about all the lies used as a pretext for this century’s wars. If US people had media that fearlessly sought truth, or at least differences of opinion on vital issues, many more would have been against the shameful sactions and attacks on Iraq, the support of Israel as it invaded and destroyed Gaza and Lebanon.
    Go back to the Tonkin Gulf episode, and the Liberty affair under Lyndon Johnson. Lots of lies, wars and dstrucion. Drones are just the latest, along with stealth bombers and bunkerbuster bombs. Still the wrong friends and the unneeded enemies.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    The title “Do Drones Undermine Democracy” was the NYT’s ‘safe from criticism’ headline. The issue is not damage to America’s democracy—which is a thing of the past and nothing but a charade for much of the time—but the damage done to International Law by the illegal attacks on sovereign countries…and worse, the high numbers of innocent civilians killed and maimed by drone strikes.

    Singer expresses a slight concern for the prospect of the US’s illegal attacks becoming a world norm in the not too distant future. When other nations use their unmanned killer drones to attack and kill Americans the screams of outrage will deafen the heavens—but will only be appropriate blow-back.

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