This book was recommended to me by a good friend at work. Coincidently, I have a different book called Kill Chain on my to-read list as well which made it a little confusing and I had to confirm that this was the one he wanted me to read. My friend and I are both in the Army but these days I work the Army equivalent of a desk job. I am a data analyst for the Army now after nearly a decade on the bomb squad. My friend works for an organization with a dedicated assistance and training mission. He and I have been friends for about ten years and we are very different people but at the same time we are quite close. He reads a lot but nearly everything is military and/or professional development focused so when he recommends a book about work, I listen. It helped in this case that I had interest in the subject matter as well.
For the book itself, it is a pretty comprehensive look at the history of drone warfare, specifically as a part of American policy. To summarize the entire book, we are spending a lot of money and don’t have any real, positive results to show for it. In spite of the massive, and I mean MASSIVE, amounts of money being spent on the systems, most do not work, at least not as advertised. When they do, the systems in place make their use feel almost indiscriminate. We funnel billions of dollars into these programs and are led to believe that if we don’t, we will lose. Even when organizations want to cancel programs, Congress keeps them alive- Eisenhower warned us about the growing Military Industrial Complex and this is a textbook example. Then, when we do use these, we fail to follow protocols and kill civilians as often as we kill the targets.
Everything about drone warfare is a complete and utter debacle if this book is to be believed, which I am inclined to do. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that drones and unmanned vehicles are the future or at least a part of it. They allow us to defend America’s interests without putting troops on the ground. While I have opinions about that as well, for the sake of simplicity (that’s a big assumption, I know) I think that we can agree that not having the military deployed all over the world is a good thing. I think that the role of the executive branch is to find that balance between hard and soft power through the State and Defense Departments. You have to have enough military capability to demonstrate the ability but not so much that it becomes your only option. You also want to ensure that you can protect the country from both current and future threats. I think there is a place in that happy middle where the use of drones can amplify hard power in support of soft power. That also said, based upon this book, the capability of these platforms is not mature enough to fill that void effectively. Drones are being used exclusively, it seems, as a hard power enabler to attack and destroy terrorists. However, the capability of the drones is not sufficient to effectively do this. The best example in the book is that the imagery produced by the drones is not enough to positively confirm identification which leads to bad targeting. That leads to the murder of civilians which not only doesn’t support hard power, but actively impedes the application of soft power. You can’t negotiate with people you are killing without cause. Taking the best and most positive interpretation of that, we look completely inept and uncaring. We can’t build coalitions with partners who can’t trust us.
This book opens up a lot of discussion that I think is necessary in my work circles. I would not be surprised to see this book on future professional reading lists. If anyone is interested in this kind of discussion, I would love to engage. I am always trying to learn more and see different perspectives.