USA TODAY 05/24/13
By Michael Shank

Armed drones, at first blush, are a boon to America’s military toolkit, as President Obama reinforced in his counterterrorism speech on Thursday. Drones, in the short run at least, could mean fewer U.S. troops deployed and fewer American lives lost.

Unsurprisingly, the appeal is mounting for unmanned killing machines that know no national boundary, need no permit for deployment and go unnoticed by enemies. More than 75 nations have remotely piloted aircraft. Drones are merely the latest in military innovation; all countries will want one shortly.

Another innovation, happening simultaneously, is more sinister. We are disposing of past precedent and throwing conventions to the curb with our willingness to kill Americans outside the court of law with little prosecutorial evidence, our secret White House kill list, and our erroneous belief that strikes are strategic.

Signature strikes rely on ambiguous behavioral patterns of unknown individuals, cause countless civilian casualties and circumvent international humanitarian law.

The biggest problem with drones, however, has less to do with technology or jurisprudence and more to do with something softer: America’s moral might and the goodwill it garners globally. Having worked in Pakistan in the early 2000s, when public opinion was more pro-American, I’ve witnessed over the past decade the deterioration of goodwill toward America, exhausted through our use of drones.

Tabling serious sovereignty concerns, America is killing humans it will never know or look in the eye — all from a joystick in Texas. We have no skin in the game. There is no white flag for adversaries, no opportunity for surrender. The once-regarded American beacon of justice is now as inhumane and robotic as our drones.

There are more effective ways of winning hearts and minds and creating livelihoods worth living, not sacrificing. We must innovate our way toward that task and broaden our diplomatic tools because if the trajectory of arms flow is any indication, we face a rapid proliferation of killer robots.

Easier means of engaging in conflict and violating sovereignty lead to more wars that will pull in America.

And when the rules governing the international system break down or are ignored, all hell breaks loose. Meaning, more troops on the ground and more American lives lost.

Former congressional aide Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.