“Unmanned Warfare” in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia: Drone strikes poll shows mass disapproval

A poll released this week by the US-based Pew Research Center examining international attitudes towards the US included a specific question about US drone strikes.   Asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?” the vast majority of respondents in twenty countries expressed clear  disapproval (see table below).

Only three of the twenty countries surveyed did not disapprove of the strikes by a clear majority: India, Britain and the US itself.  However there was hardly clear support in India where only 32% actually approved the strikes with almost half of respondents (47%) not answering the question, while the majority of those who expressed an opinion in the UK, also disapproved (47% disapprove vs. 44% approve).   As Gabriel Carlyle writes over at the Peace News Blog, its important for anti-drone campaigners in the UK “to bump Britain’s “disapproval” rates up to those of Germany, France, Spain and others”

An important aspect of this poll, which received bare mention in mainstream press coverage,  is the gender gap.  As the analysis by the Pew Center itself states:

There are [large] differences between men and women on this question throughout much of Europe, as well as in the U.S., Japan, and Brazil. In Germany, 54% of men support the strikes, compared with just 24% of women. Fully 57% of British men approve of using drones, but only 30% of women agree. Double-digit gender gaps are found in 10 nations, including a gap of 23 percentage points in the U.S.”

With regard to US support, as Micah Zenko has pointed out, US support for drone strikes seems to have fallen from 83% in February to 62% in April. I suspect that the growing opposition to civil drones flying in US airspace will ‘leak’ across and mean that US support for use of armed drones overseas may well continue to fall further.

For example, this week US Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill mandating that a warrant be sought from the courts before a drone is used for law enforcement purposes.  Almost at the same time a group of twenty-six Republican and Democratic congressmen have written to President Obama demanding that he explain the legal justification for so-called ‘signature strikes’ arguing that such drone strikes generate “powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment” which could lead to further attacks on the US and US civilians. 

US support for use of drones may drop even further when the US public realises that other, ‘non-approved’ nations can also use drones.  While it is not yet reached the news headlines, there continues to be persistent rumours that the Syrian regime are using a drone to target artillery strikes in Homs (see this BBC article for example). 

Ken McDonald, Chair of the human rights organisation Reprieve, wrote an interesting piece for the Times this week connecting the slaughter of innocents in Syria and Waziristan – all justified in the name of ‘security’ (pdf).  The minority who support targeted killing by drone strikes seem to do so in the mistaken belief that by ‘taking out the bad guys’ we can increase security for all.  The stark reality is just the opposite – and the sooner we win this argument, the sooner support for targeted killing and drone strikes will disappear altogether.

Articles by: Chris Cole

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