Editor's note: In an interview with Charlie Rose, Peter W. Singer joins Michael Boyle of LaSalle University, Rosa Brooks of Georgetown University, and Scott Shane of The New York Times to discuss the revolutionary nature of drone technology as well as the dilemmas—strategic, ethical, political—that they present. Read an excerpt below.
Charlie Rose: Peter Singer, put this in the context of warfare overall.
Peter Singer: Well you have a revolutionary change that’s happening in the technology of war. Now, the question here is, are we talking about war or counterterrorism—we’ve got things conflated. But when you look at the technology of drones, it’s a gamechanger in war. It’s something along the level of the introduction of gunpowder or the steam engine or the airplane. By that I mean it gives you a series of capabilities that we didn’t imagine we’d have a generation ago, but also it’s giving us a series of dilemmas that we also didn’t imagine we’d be having a generation ago. And they’re dilemmas that are political, strategic, tactical, all the way down to ethical and legal.
Now one thing that’s happening here I think that’s a challenge is that we’re seeing things conflated. So, just as the example that Scott gave of the conflation between the JSOC kill list and process—the Joint Special Operations Command on the military side—and the one that the CIA is doing, both of which are taking place in the shadow wars that are out there.
Peter Singer: Signature strikes is an illustration of this, where on one hand we’ve seen administration officials say either “we don’t do that,” and other times we’ve heard them say “we do do that, but this is why.” But then we also have a variety of tactics beyond signature strikes that, for example, in an overt military operation you would never utilize.
One’s called a 'double tap strike,' which is where you strike at a target and then you wait for the rescuers to come about and you strike again. Now that’s been something that we’ve pointed out that if adversaries did that in Afghanistan or Iraq we would say “how dare you, this is evidence of how bad they are.” Yet there have been reports that we may have conducted strikes in a similar manner. Don’t know whether they’re confirmed or not.
But what I’m getting at here is that a civilian, political appointee lawyer, operating under a very different set of laws and priorities, looks at that issue and the question of what tactics you might bring, what rules of engagement you operate under, very differently from how a military lawyer would. And that’s part of the importance of whether these do shift from intelligence agency to military, but also whether they stay in the complete black ops world or whether we own up to the fact that these are not covert operations anymore, they’re frankly not so covert, and we need to stop running away from them and embrace the fact that we are doing them and these are the rules we’re going to operate under and actually stick and follow those rules.