On Thursday, February 24, 2011, the New America Foundation, American Society of International Law, and the Arizona State University’s Center for Law, Science and Innovation hosted a conference on drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Four panels addressed a variety of topics associated with the technology, including their applications and limits as well as legal issues surrounding their use. Accounts ranged from academic to the anecdotal.
Panel I on the “The Use and Impact of Drones in South Asia,” included experiences from panelists who had seen first-hand the impact of drone technology in South Asia. Panelists Rohde and Shah offered their stories and confirmed that the drone program produced fear within Taliban ranks—the sound of drone engines hovering above was and remains haunting for civilians and insurgents. Others offered their assessment of the drone’s effectiveness in counter-insurgency and its perception within individual warzones.
Panel II, on “Drones and the Law of War,” was particularly informative, as Col. Bitzes and Charles Blanchard detailed the drone targeting and acquisition process employed by the US Air Force. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch and William Banks rounded out the panel by emphasizing the legal framework in which violence is permissible.
Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century,” spoke about the broader implications for war once altered by technology. Singer challenged the assumption that new systems could sterilize violence. Beyond this, his comments focused on the weakness of today’s public debates as they relate to science, technology, and ethics. His closing statement highlighted the value of the conference.