Asymmetric Strategies and Asymmetric Threats: A Structural-realist Critique of Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2014

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Virginia Tech

As a component of the overall policy to defeat global terrorism and prevent attacks against the U.S., the Bush and Obama administrations have turned to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. From 2004 to 2014, Pakistan has seen the largest volume of U.S. drone strikes targeting radical groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban, a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. On the surface, using drones to eliminate terrorists while avoiding an official armed conflict aligns with the theory of neo- or structural realism developed by Kenneth Waltz. And yet although 9/11 served as the impetus for the U.S. to refocus attention on ameliorating the threat of terrorism and to initiate far-reaching measures to protect homeland security, there remains intense debate over whether or not the U.S. is actually more secure than it was prior to 9/11. While structural realism is still relevant to the current international system, the effects of drone strikes in Pakistan may set the U.S. on a path toward increasingly destabilizing situations that could lead to heightened insecurity and ultimately a change in power in the international system. The existing literature suggests that drone strikes in Pakistan are (1) leading to revenge-driven counter attacks, (2) intensifying radical anti-Americanism and creating more potential terrorists, (3) damaging the U.S. relationship with nuclear-armed Pakistan, (4) destabilizing the regions where drone attacks are launched, and (5) undermining American 'soft power.' The culmination of these five trends has the potential to disrupt the current balance of power in a way that is not in America's national interest. The unique security dilemma presented by the asymmetrical threat of terrorism and the asymmetrical response of drone strikes necessitates the continued evolution of neorealism as an IR theory.

neorealism, structural realism, drones, Drone aircraft, Pakistan, asymmetric warfare