Eye in the Sky presents a bleak portrait of drone technology and calls into question the norms of global counterterrorism and warfare. Technological tools of surveillance allow for targeted operations, aimed at known terrorists. These tools entrench existing hegemonies of power. However much drones are celebrated for reducing the numbers of casualties in counterterrorism units while simultaneously targeting top terrorism suspects, the effects of the drone strikes can be devastating on the local innocents, the civilians caught in the drone fire, and may even have some detrimental long-term effects such as increased acts of terror or reduction of the credibility of counterterrorism.
Public attitudes towards the use of drones vary considerably. In the United States, attitudes toward the use of drone strikes as a counterterrorism tactic "is moved more by legal principles than by military effectiveness," (Kreps and Wallace). Given the ways drones can be reframed as legally problematic, and given the impact of public attitudes on counterterrorism strategies in general, it is possible that films like Eye in the Sky could lead to shifts in policy towards drones. Drones have been discussed as a reconfiguration of violence toward a video gaming model, in that drones confer "visual superpower," (Maurer 1). Drones enable targeted man hunting on a scale never before possible in military history.
Drone warfare is based on the principle of remote agency. The psychological and even spiritual distance placed between drone operator and target may be meaningful from an ethical as well as pragmatic perspective. As Asaro suggests, drone operators have been extricated from their military positions and placed within a professional configuration. Drone operators have "professionalized careers and technological systems of supervision and management" qualitatively different from their military counterparts (Asaro 196). Whether these changes are beneficial or ethical remains to be seen, but those types of judgments also depend on what side of the surveillance machine one stands. From Washington's point-of-view, drone strikes are indeed effective at wiping out key terrorists, at senior levels of management as well as lower levels in their respective organizations (Bergen and Tiedemann). It is widely claimed that drones, known more officially as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are "killing fewer civilians than other means of attack," and are therefore crucial in the war against terror (Boyle 1).
The harshest critics of drone warfare claim the use of drones will have a net negative effect by stimulating anti-American/anti-Western sentiment, bolster recruitment efforts for terrorist networks worldwide due precisely to anti-American sentiment, and also create a new level of global instability.
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Specifically, Boyle warns that drones "will usher in a new arms race and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent, destabilized and polarized between those who have drones and those who are victims of them," (1). What Eye in the Sky so aptly demonstrates is the psychological effect drones have on their victims. That effect is that persons in positions of military, political, and economic power like the Americans or the British also have the power to decide who deserves to live or die. As such, drones need to be taken more seriously as a political issue. Eye in the Sky shows how senior officers like Colonel Powell in the film make their "kill" decisions based on political and diplomatic considerations.
Perhaps what makes viewers acutely uncomfortable when watching Eye in the Sky, or when contemplating the realities of drone warfare from the levels of senior leadership, is the fact that human life is quantifiable. When Colonel Powell, for example, estimates the statistical probabilities of civilians -- in some cases specific civilians like the little girl -- dying in the strike, they are doing so for rational and arguably good reasons. The audience, and those critical of drone warfare, will find Powell's assessments dehumanizing. There are no easy answers. On the one hand, drone warfare is dehumanizing, placing a gulf of psychological distance between the parties who use surveillance and then kill, and the parties who are being watched and who may die. On the other hand, terrorism exists and would almost certainly persist even if drone warfare were ceased altogether. The alternatives to using drones include traditional warfare, which offers no more solace in terms of preventing civilian casualties. Traditional warfare also entails upper-level decision-making processes about who lives and who dies, and traditional warfare has included espionage and surveillance for thousands of years. Drones represent the….....
Asaro, Peter M. "The labor of surveillance and bureaucratized killing: new subjectivities of military drone operators. Social Semiotics, Vol. 23, Issue 2, 2013, pp. 196-224.
Bergen, Peter and Tiedemann, Katherine. "Washington's Phantom War." Foreign Affairs, 90, Issue 12, 2011, pp. 12.
Boyle, Michael. "The Costs and Consequences of Drone Warfare." International Affairs, Vol. 89, Issue 1, pp. 1-29.
Foust, Joshua. "The political consequences of a drones-first policy. The Atlantic. 27 Jan, 2012, Retrieved online: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/01/the-political-consequences-of-a-drones-first-policy/252129/
Hood, Gavin. Eye in the Sky. [Feature Film].
Kreps, Sarah E. and Wallace, Geoffrey PR. "International Law, Military Effectiveness, and Public Support for Drone Strikes." (May 19, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2608137 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2608137
Maurer, Kathrin. "Visual power: The scopic regime of military drone operations." Media, War, and Conflict, April 7, 2016, doi: 10.1177/1750635216636137
Miller, Greg. "Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killing." The Washington Post. Dec 2011, Retrieved online: http://www.agriculturedefensecoalition.org/sites/default/files/file/drones_517/517X_2_2011_Under_President_Obama_Emerging_Global_Apparatus_for_Drone_Killing_The_Washington_Post_December_27_2011_Entire_Article.pdf