BRIEF. Why Obama needs drones US Drone Policy during the Obama Administration FORSVARSAKADEMIETS FORLAG

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1 BRIEF Why Obama needs drones US Drone Policy during the Obama Administration By Philip Chr. Ulrich, M.A. in American Studies FORSVARSAKADEMIETS FORLAG

2 BRIEF Why Obama needs drones US Drone Policy during the Obama Administration By Philip Chr. Ulrich, M.A. in American Studies

3 The Royal Danish Defence College is the Danish armed forces powerhouse for education, training and research-generated consultancy. Our research is conducted within a broad range of military-related topics. Our research priorities, such as topics and resource allocation are determined by the Commandant of the Royal Danish Defence College, who is aided by a research council. Research at the Royal Danish Defence College should enlighten and challenge the reader, whether they are in the armed forces or in the surrounding environment. This is only achievable if the employees have the freedom to administer their own research projects and draw their own conclusions. This is a principle, which is honoured at the Royal Danish Defence College. We hope you enjoy reading the Royal Danish Defence College s publications! Royal Danish Defence College All rights reserved. Mechanical, photographic or other reproduction or photocopying from this book or parts thereof is only allowed according to agreements between The Danish Defence and CopyDan. Any other use without written consent from the Royal Danish Defence College is illegal according to Danish law on intellectual property right. Excepted are short extracts for reviews in newspapers or the like. Copenhagen June 2013 Royal Danish Defence College Ryvangs Allé 1 DK-2100 Copenhagen Denmark Phone: Fax: Editor: Director of the Institute for Strategy Ole Kværnø Layout by B-O. Kure ISBN: Royal Danish Defence College Publishing House

4 Royal Danish Defence College Introduction On May 23 rd, 2013, President Obama held one of his most signifi cant national security speeches at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington D.C. The speech has been seen by many as the announcement of the end of the war on terror and the drawing down of the administration s use of drones. However, from May 23 rd until June 9 th, 2013, the United States launched at least 4 drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, killing, according to offi cial sources, 26 militants. 1 How does the continued use of drones add up with President Obama s speech at the NDU? The fact is that the war on terror is not over yet, and the continued efforts against terror networks and their affi liates around the Middle East is a sign that drones will continue to play a major role in US security policy. Drones provide a cost-effi cient and effective tool to continue the war, while allowing the administration to disengage and avoid major military operations in the war on terror. The subsequent surveillance scandals that have hit the Obama administration in May and June 2013 further underline the fact that the war on terror is not over, it is just being fought less overtly than in the past. Based on President Obama s speech and his administration s defense budget proposal presented in April 2013, this brief will analyze how there seems to be no major change on the horizon in the US use of drones. The Obama administration needs drones to continue pursuing its foreign policy objectives of continuously asserting US global presence as well as continuing the fi ght against al Qaeda. And as President Obama stated in his speech at the NDU, our actions are effective. [ ] Simply put, these strikes have saved lives. 2 Drones have primarily been used in three ways: - As tactical support for forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan - As a counter-terrorism asset, fl ying missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia - As an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) asset (1) Bill Roggio: US launches fi rst drone strike in Pakistan in 6 weeks, 29 May rst_dr.php Bill Roggio: US drones kill 8 AQAP fi ghters in Yemen strike, 1 June Bill Roggio: US drones kill 6 in North Waziristan, 7 June Bill Roggio: US drones kill AQAP commander, 5 fi ghters in Northen Yemen, 9 June (2) Remarks by the President at the National Defense University, 23 May ce/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defenseuniversity 3

5 The use of drones has enabled the Obama administration to support international operations in Libya and Mali while limiting or even avoiding the commitment of boots on the ground. esides this, drones have been invaluable in allowing the Obama administration to continue the fi ght against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their affi liates. So the Obama administration has no interest in drawing down on its reliance on drones any time soon. Obama s Leading from Behind Doctrine The US economy is in historically bad shape, and millions of Americans are without jobs. For that reason, a primary objective for the Obama administration has been to focus on domestic nation building, or as it says in the administration s strategic guidance from January 2012, we must put our fi scal house in order here at home and renew our long-term economic strength. 3 At the same time, the Obama administration has two recent wars to take into account before judging the need for US commitment. Since President Obama took offi ce in 2009, his administration has worked intensely on disengaging from Iraq and Afghanistan and on avoiding new, expensive, long-term engagements. The purpose of this has been to focus on domestic nation building in the United States, as well as to put greater focus on the Asia-Pacifi c region, as announced in the strategic guidance of January Because the United States has wide-ranging global interests, it would be impossible for the United States to revert back to a 1930s isolationist foreign policy and solely focus on domestic issues. Therefore, the purpose of the 2012 strategic guidance was to create a strategy that preserves American global leadership, maintains our military superiority 5 while giving the Obama administration breathing space to focus on domestic policy. To that end, the Obama administration took steps to withdraw US forces from Iraq, which resulted in the fi nal US combat forces pulling out of Iraq in December Besides withdrawing forces from Iraq, one of the fi rst major foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration was to add additional forces to Afghanistan in order to facilitate a transition to indigenous Afghan security forces. As the situation in the Middle East evolved with great rapidity during the Arab Spring, the Obama administration was forced to act. However, as part of the pragmatic approach to foreign policy that the Obama administration has displayed since it took offi ce in 2009, the US engagement has been characterized by the phrase leading (3) Department of Defense: Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, (Washington D.C., January 2012), foreword (4) Philip Chr. Ulrich: The US Pivot Towards Asia-Pacifi c: Third Time s the Charm? (Copenhagen, Royal Danish Defence College, February 2013) (5) Ibid: foreword 4

6 Royal Danish Defence College from behind. In Libya the United States assisted with assets not contained in the European Allies arsenals, thus supporting air strikes through the use of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets such as drones. 6 The same approach could be seen as France engaged in military operations in Mali to counter the rising dominance of Islamic militants. For the military operations in Mali, the United States once again contributed with ISR assets to support French air operations. 7 These more limited contributions to international operations are the result of the approach that the Obama administration has consistently been forced to take on foreign policy issues due to domestic circumstances. Domestic policy has thus been the deciding factor in questions of international engagement during the Obama administration. Drones as central asset in war on terror In his speech on May 23rd, President Obama called for an end to the war on terror that the United States has been engaged since However, it was not an announcement declaring an end to the war rather it was an announcement of the beginning of the end: Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war must end. That s what history advises. That s what our democracy demands. 8 In sum, the speech was not a declaration of the end of the war on terror, but an attempt to start the process of getting the United States out of the post-9/11 era and into a new chapter of history. The revelations of massive surveillance by the National Security Agency show the more covert way that the war on terror continues. The continued war on terror will be based more on intelligence gathering, which could possibly lead to continued use of drone strikes. This will be the way that the United States can maintain pressure on terrorist organizations while moving away from the constant state of war the country has been in since September 11 th, Since 2009, drones have become a cornerstone of the Obama administration s counter-terrorism policy. In 2009, then-cia director Leon Panetta said that drones were... the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership. 9 This has been the basic idea running through the Obama administration s counter-terrorism policy since (6) Ivo H. Daalder and James G. Stavridis: NATO s Success in Libya : (7) Adam Entous, David Gauthier-Villars and Drew Hinshaw: U.S. Boosts War Role in Africa : (8) Remarks by the President at the National Defense University, 23 May ce/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defenseuniversity (9) Micah Zenko: Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies (Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report No. 65, January 2013), p. 9 5

7 The reliance on drones has gone so far that the budget proposal for fi scal year 2014 states the following: The MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers have been, and will continue to be, our counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism workhorses. 10 And they have indeed been workhorses. Since 2008, the United States has conducted approximately 330 drone strikes in Pakistan and 70 in Yemen, compared to 10 and 1 respectively during the period These strikes have been supplemented by strikes against targets in Somalia. The increasing dependence can also be seen in the number of US drones. In September 2001, the United States had 50 drones. By April 2012, the number had risen to 7500 drones. These numbers include drones of all sizes, ranging from drones used by infantry units on the ground in Afghanistan for tactical reconnaissance to large drones such as the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk systems. 12 Due to the success of the drone policy, it does not seem like the Obama administration is going to change its reliance on drones. In his speech at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. on May 23 rd, 2013, President Obama praised the drone policy: To begin with, our actions are effective. [ ] Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefi eld. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives. 13 Overall, the speech was a defense of the Obama administration s drone policy. One point President Obama emphasized was that, when the drone policy is criticized, the critics should weigh the alternative of doing nothing: But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies [civilian casualties in drone strikes] against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties not just in our cities and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold. 14 As has already been mentioned, the drone policy also strikes a chord in the foreign policy of the Obama administration. Using drones allows the United States to avoid (10) Department of Defense: Defense Budget Priorities and Choices. Fiscal Year 2014 (Washington D.C., April 2013), p. 30 (11) Bill Roggio and Alexander Mayer: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, (updated on 7 June 2013) Bill Roggio and Bob Barry: Charting the data for US air strikes in Yemen, (Updated on 9 June 2013) (12) Micah Zenko: Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies (Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report No. 65, January 2013), p. 3 (13) Remarks by the President at the National Defense University: ce/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defenseuniversity (14) Ibid. 6

8 Royal Danish Defence College engaging boots on the ground while still achieving its anti-terrorism objectives. In order to emphasize his point, President Obama evoked the memories of past failures in order to justify the use of drones: It is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world. The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Black Hawks down [italics added], more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars. 15 The mention of Black Hawks down evoked the memory of the failed US engagement in Somalia in the early 1990s, and later in the speech, he evoked the memory of Vietnam as well as the recent memories of Iraq and Afghanistan to further emphasize his point. Because of the risks involved in having boots on the ground, the necessity of continuing the war against al Qaeda, the successes of the drone policy, the international pressure to engage in the Arab Spring, and the recent experiences of the United States in foreign relations, drones have proven to be an important tool for the Obama administration to achieve its foreign policy objectives with minimum risk. Issues with the use of drones Legal issues rather than military ones have been a major problem for the Obama administration s drone policy. Internationally, the United States has been criticized for targeting people without consideration for national sovereignty and for violating humanitarian law. Within the United States, the issues have been focused around the transparency of the decision-making process as well as constitutional issues regarding the targeting of American citizens. Generally speaking, the US public is very supportive of the Obama administration s drone policy. According to a Gallup poll from March 2013, 65% of the US population supported the administration s use of drones to Launch airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists. 16 Therefore, the great debate in the United States has focused on the drone policy s lack of transparency. It was not until early 2012 that the Obama administration acknowledged some of the strikes that had been carried out, and it was not until May 2013 that the administration admitted the killing of 4 US citizens, despite the fact that the most prominent of the operations, the targeting of Anwar al-awlaki, took place in President Obama s speech on May 23 rd, 2013 was also meant to counter these criticisms of his administration s drone policy. (15) Ibid. (16) Alyssa Brown and Frank Newport: In U.S., 65% Support Drone Attacks on Terrorists Abroad 7

9 The speech specifi ed that the use of drones is legal according to both international and domestic US law. President Obama said that, because the United States was attacked on September 11 th, 2001 by al Qaeda, the country is in a legitimate war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associate forces. 17 This fact, according to President Obama, legitimizes the use of forces against these actors, no matter where they are found by the United States. Addressing the question of domestic legal issues, President Obama asserted that any US citizen who goes abroad to plot attacks on the United States cannot be protected by their citizenship. The domestic US legal foundation on which the Obama administration bases its policy is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in Congress on September 18 th, 2001 as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11 th. According to the AUMF, the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. 18 However, as part of the effort to ensure more transparency, President Obama announced a proposal to repeal the AUMF and to formulate new decision making procedures for conducting drone strikes. This effort can be seen both as a consequence of the massive public criticism of the transparency issue and as an attempt to improve the Obama administration s image, which has been hammered by a number of scandals. The scandals revolve around the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11 th, 2012, the targeting of conservative political movements by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the secret surveillance of an Associated Press reporter by the Justice Department. In the face of these scandals combined with the lingering criticism of its drone policy, the Obama administration was in need of improving its image. President Obama s speech on May 23 rd, 2013 should also be seen in this light. Drones in Anti-Access/Area Denial Environments A central part of the 2012 strategic guidance was the development of capabilities to operate in a so-called A2/AD environment. Because of the increasing capabilities of potential adversary states to deny the United States access to strategically important regions, it has become a central issue for the Department of Defense to develop capacities to enable continued operations despite enemy actions. The strategic guidance states the following: Accordingly, the U.S: military will invest as (17) Remarks by the President at the National Defense University: ce/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defenseuniversity (18) United States Congress: Public Law (Washington D.C., 107 th Congress, 18 September 2001), section 2a 8

10 Royal Danish Defence College required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments. 19 The purpose of operating despite enemy A2/AD capacities is explained in the Department of Defense s Joint Operational Access Concept: Projecting U.S. military force invariably requires extensive use of international waters, international airspace, non-sovereign cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. U.S. access to and freedom of navigation within these global commons are vital to its international interests, both because the American way of life requires free access to the global marketplace and as a means for projecting military force into hostile territory. 20 Drones represent a key aspect of the strategic and doctrinal thinking of the US military. For the purpose of operating in an A2/AD environment, drones are ideal. On May 13 th, 2013, the US Navy carried out the fi rst ever launch of a drone from an aircraft carrier, the USS George H. W. Bush. The Northrop Grumman X-47B, or any other similar system, can provide an increased action radius for US aircraft carriers, thus better enabling them to operate in an A2/AD environment. The new X-47B drone has an unrefueled combat radius of nearly 3000 km, which is twice that of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This range can be doubled by air refueling, which also means that the X-47B can stay in the air for anywhere between 50 and 100 hours. Its internal payload capacity is equivalent to that of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 21 All these features, combined with a stealth design, make the X-47 B and equivalent systems ideal for achieving the goal set by the Joint Operational Access Concept, which is to allow US forces to achieve operational access in the face of armed opposition by a variety of potential enemies and under a variety of conditions, as part of a broader national approach. 22 The Department of Defense s appreciation of the potential of these drone systems can also be seen in the budget proposal for fi scal year 2014, which was presented by the Department of Defense in April Part of the proposal requests funds for the further development of sea-based drone capacities, which would amount to $427 million, as part of an overall $2.5 billion program to invest in such airborne (19) Department of Defense: Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21 st Century Defense, (Washington D.C., January 2012), pp. 4-5 (20) Department of Defense: Joint Operational Access Concept (Washington D.C., January 2012), p. 5 (21) Thomas P. Ehrhard and Robert O. Work: The Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration Program: A New Dawn For Naval Aviation? (Washington D.C., Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, May 2007), p. 32 (22) Department of Defense: Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) (Washington D.C., 17 January 2012), p. 1 9

11 ISR capacities. 23 The goal for the Department of Defense is to enhance mission effectiveness, improve operational speed and effi ciency, and affordably close warfi ghting gaps. 24 The plan is to fl y drones from US aircraft carriers in Drones will remain central The use of drones has worked well for the Obama administration -- both the use of armed and unarmed ISR drones for international missions in Libya and Mali as well as the use of drones for targeting al Qaeda, Taliban and affi liate organizations. Although many viewed it as an announcement of the end of the war on terror, President Obama s speech on May 23 rd, 2013 was meant as a defense of the drone policy and a justifi cation for the continued use of drones in counter-terrorism operations. The successes that the programs have achieved are remarkable, leading to a diminished threat from al Qaeda and affi liate organizations against the United States mainland. The Obama administration s foreign policy since 2009 has been focused on disengaging from the Middle East, rebalancing (or pivoting) to the Asia-Pacifi c region, and focusing on domestic nation building in the United States. The use of drones has allowed the Obama administration to pursue such a policy while still engaging to secure US interests. The economic and political conditions in the United States will not change any time soon to a point where a more active US foreign policy can return, and even then, the primary focus will still be on countering Chinese infl uence in the Asia-Pacifi c region. Drones will therefore continue to be a primary counterterrorism asset for the Obama administration, as well as an asset with which the United States can contribute to international operations, thus contributing capacities the European Allies lack. At the same time, drones have great potential in relation to the increasing focus and development of capacities that will enable the United States to operate in an A2/ AD environment. This priority is emphasized in both the 2012 strategic guidance as well as the Joint Operational Access Concept, and subsequently in the budget proposal for fi scal year (23) Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel s Submitted Statement to the House Armed Services Committee on the FY 2014 Budget Request for the Department of Defense, Thursday, 11 April 2013: 4c19-818f-0aeaffda938a&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_ id=64562e79-731a-4ac6-aab0-7bd8d1b7e890&monthdisplay=4&yeardisplay=2013 (24) Department of Defense: Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap. FY , (Washington D.C.), p. 5 (25) David Axe: The case for sea-based drones 10

12 Royal Danish Defence College All these factors indicate that drones will continue to be a central part of US defense policy, both in a counter-terrorism capacity and in future force developments for counter A2/AD operations. 11

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