Targeted Killing: Drones

Daniel Bethlehem on Out-of-Theater Targeting

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, October 7, 2011, 11:23 AM

Daniel Bethlehem, who recently stepped down as principal legal adviser of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, has an interesting essay in the Harvard National Security Journal, on out-of-theater targeting and John Brennan's recent speech. It opens:

The killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki last week has given sharper focus to a debate that was already raging about the use of drones, the scope of the September 18, 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force, and the wider issues raised by John Brennan’s Harvard speech of September 16, 2011 on security and values.  These are important questions that admit of reasonable argument on either side of the point.  It is a mark of democracy that this debate is taking place and that its touchstones are law and values rather than simply the effectiveness of the means used to secure the policy goals.

They are not, however, the right questions for the moment.  Focused on operational issues – choice of weapons, targeting, issues of co-belligerency – they obscure the broader strategic questions.  Is the policy wise?  Will its strategic trajectory, led by operational imperatives, leave us where we want to be?  As we look to Yemen and Somalia, are we simply mopping up the last war or are we stumbling into the next?