Drones are here to stay.
Equally false is the idea that militaries will not deploy drones in ever-increasing numbers. As Barack Obama realised, drones are inexpensive, they keep soldiers out of harm’s way and are far more accurate than any existing form of distant warfare. Though estimates vary, studies put civilian casualties at 20% to 30%. This is low given the nature of the war and compared to traditional aerial bombing or strafing. By any standard of just war, drones are morally sound. They are proportionate. Unlike normal bombing or even a special force raid, where fire is often indiscriminate, drones create far less collateral damage. In fact, it can be said they have created a new standard in this area. They have minimal consequences. Drones do not leave radiation or level buildings. Their pilots can sit and operate them thousands of miles away from the battlefield. As Hezbollah has shown, drones will not be a monopoly of the US and Israel — countries which at present make two-thirds of the world’s drones — for long. India is also assembling a fleet.
Nonetheless, drones are revolutionary in many ways. Automatic targeting is just a few steps away, a capacity that would take direct human control out of the loop. Which is why they need rules. At present, drones are treated as small helicopters or airplanes. But they are much more than that — the next generation will be carried in backpacks and follow individual soldiers. It is unclear who would be legally responsible for a non-guided drone. The Persian Gulf incident raised the question of rules of engagement between men and machine. The list goes on. It is a debate that needs to be taken up more seriously and one that India should not remain passive about.