The future of US drone policy: A conversation with International Law Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell,

On Oct. 7, President Joe Biden signed a long-awaited policy tightening the rules for the CIA and Pentagon to conduct drone strikes outside of traditional war zones. The new policy requires the president’s approval before a lethal drone strike or commando raid can be launched.

The policy focuses on countries that are not conventional war zones, including Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, but where the United States continues to carry out counterterrorism strikes. It signals that the U.S. will limit drone strikes, which have been criticized for killing civilians. However, it allows the president to waive certain requirements of the new policy at his discretion.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, the University of Notre Dame’s Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, is a longtime outspoken critic of drone strikes, calling them a grave violation of international law. […]

Explain President Biden’s new policy on counterterrorism and your thoughts on it.

We do not know exactly what the policy is because much of it is classified. That fact alone should concern us. Solid, lawful policies are public. For example, NATO’s central policy is that an attack on one member state will be treated as an attack on all. NATO’s policy is fully in compliance with international law. There is no need to hide it.

From the hints about the new policy in the media, it is indeed unlawful because it continues to permit drone-launched missile attacks beyond areas of armed conflict hostilities. President Biden will apparently authorize some strikes, which may cut back on the number of unlawful attacks. That is, of course, a good thing, but no individual national leader can legalize what global law renders unlawful. The law requires an end to drone strikes outside combat zones.

You have long been a critic of U.S.-authorized drone strikes in countries including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. Why do you consider them to be illegal?

International law prohibits the use of armed force unless authorized by the United Nations Security Council or when needed in self-defense to an occurring armed attackThese principles are found in the U.N. Charter. They are being cited every day against Russia and in support of Ukraine. Yet, since 2002, the U.S. has been violating them when drones are used to attack terrorist suspects in the territory of a country that has not attacked the U.S.

The Obama administration tried to carve out a new legal right to use force to legalize drone strikes. This is not possible in international law, but the Biden administration is continuing to cite the purported rule, which holds that when a sovereign state is “unwilling or unable” to assist the U.S. with respect to terrorist suspects, the U.S. has legal justification to attack with military force. The attempt defies common sense, let alone legal sense. How could one country have the right to use force against another on the basis of subjective assessment of counterterrorism efforts? President Biden would be the first to reject any attempt by Russia or China to assert such a rule. International law is universal. It applies equally to Russia, China and the U.S. […]

How should the U.S. legally approach counterterrorism? No drones at all?

The United States should adopt effective, lawful and ethical policies. All studies indicate that the only way to have success suppressing terrorism is to engage persons drawn to this form of criminality with lawful means of political change. The first step is by respecting the human rights of all people, whether engaged in terrorism or not. Terrorism is a crime, not war. Successful counterterrorism involves law enforcement methods. The U.S. firmly held this position until 9/11. Yes, the U.S. was the victim of a terrible crime that day. But the law did not change. The seriousness of the crime did not turn it from crime to war. Even some who supported going to war in Afghanistan very much regret 20 years of fighting that led to such failure. 9/11 was an intelligence failure. Instead of improving intelligence, it turned the CIA into a paramilitary force with drones. We are still reaping the cost of that error, which the Biden administration is only perpetuating with its new policy.Läs artikel

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