The Week in Drones

By Duane Shank 11-09-2012

• After the story broke on CNN, the Defense Department announced Thursday that on Nov.1, two Iranian fighter jets fired at a U.S. surveillance drone flying in international airspace over the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon said the Predator drone was 16 miles off the coast of Iran, international space begins at 12 miles. While not explicitly confirming the charge, a senior Iranian armed forces commander issued a statement saying "The defenders of the Islamic Republic will respond decisively to any form of encroachment by air, sea or on the ground."

Wired reports that the U.S. military has launched 333 drone strikes so far this year in Afghanistan. The secret CIA drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen get more attention because of the legal and ethical questions they raise. But, “it’s worth remembering that the rise of the flying robots is largely occurring in the open, on an acknowledged battlefield where the targets are largely unquestioned and the attending issues aren’t nearly as fraught.”

Al Jazeera reports “security officials” in Yemen saying a drone strike near the Yemeni capital of Sanaa Wednesday evening killed three suspected al-Qaeda members, including a man wanted for a car bomb attack on the US embassy in 2008.

• More on Iran. The Iranian media reported that a new, advanced drone has been produced with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability. Syrian rebels claim that Iranian-made drones are helping guide Syrian army warplanes and gunners. The chair of the Iranian Parliament’s defense committee says Iran has photos of Israeli bases and other restricted areas, taken by the drone that flew over Israel before being shot down in October.

• Some conservative voices against drones:

Robert P. George, professor at Princeton, in First Things. “The wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized. This is something that Catholic intellectuals across the spectrum ought, it seems to me, to agree about. If we don’t speak, who will?”

Matthew Schmitz, deputy editor of First Things, adds: “The invention of a new technology does not change the calculus of killing, nor will exchanging Thomas Aquinas for Thomas Edison abolish moral difficulty. My holding a bow rather than a club does not give me a greater right to kill a man. The fact that we can now avail ourselves of drones does not somehow expand the number of cases in which lethal acts are licit.”

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