Bring back the drone debate, Sen. Paul
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When Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Fauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message MORE (R-Ky.) declared his candidacy for the presidency, I will admit to having a certain excitement. In part, this feeling is based on the opportunity he offered to literally blanket myself in the Constitution. Another is the opportunity to read a political comic book — but the real reason is that he clearly embraces his willingness to be a voice of concern about American use of drones. In other words, Paul's campaign offers the most likely possibility that discussion and debate around the U.S. counterterrorism, military and diplomatic use of drones will reemerge. Despite the fact that the drone debate has quieted dramatically in the recent past, there are several reasons why the American populace needs to reengage with this important policy space prior to choosing our next president.

Paul's history with questioning the use of drones as a tool of foreign policy is well-documented. There is the 13-hour filibuster of John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanFive things to know about the new spotlight on UFOs Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible Why does the hard left glorify the Palestinians? MORE's director of the CIA confirmation, in which he took the Obama administration to task for including American citizens on the drone "kill list" without adequate due process. In January on CNN — in what may be a look toward his proposed domestic policy regarding drones — Paul suggested that were a drone to fly over his home, "they better beware, because I've got a shotgun." While extreme, this position seems to have its supporters.

Paul's candidacy offers the opportunity to renew debate and discussion inside the Beltway and among American citizens about drone use. Here are some of the more important issues, as I see them:

1. The stories about domestic drone use have devolved into little more than human interest stories. When it comes to the increasingly pervasive use of drone technology domestically, there needs to be more and serious discussion about the impact on the airspace, limitations on privacy, impact on security, economic benefits and the like. This story goes well beyond a drunken hobbyist gone "rogue."


2. What are the implications for national security and global human security as drone and related technology improves? Potential subjects of debate include development of autonomous weapons systems and continued development of the ethics of drone use.

3. There has been much discussion of the geographical extent of war (see here and here for examples). It is clear, now more than ever, that there needs to be public discourse about the extent to which the United States uses drones globally. A recent Washington Post story reported that "a Reaper drone crashed in the Sahara while returning to a new U.S. base in Niger. At the start of last year, a Predator plunged into the Mediterranean Sea after conducting a secret mission over Libya, a rare tangible sign of U.S. surveillance operations there. U.S. military drones are also based in Turkey, Italy, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti, a small country on the Horn of Africa. In addition, the CIA has its own drone bases in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan."

4. The Obama administration announced in February that the United States will sell drones to allied nations, making drones part of U.S. diplomacy. According to The Washington Post, "[u]nder the new rules, which remain classified, foreign governments' requests for drones will be examined on a case-by-case basis." Happily, the nations making the request need to meet standards, including following "a set of 'proper use' principles created by the United States." This particular limitation would be more satisfying if the following were true.

5. The United States had a well-developed set proper use protocol. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. This week, The New York Times ran a story on an American citizen accused of being an al Qaeda operative and who was arrested two years ago. According to the story, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh "stood before a federal judge in Brooklyn this month. ... [His] court appearance also came as the Obama administration was struggling to fashion new guidelines for targeted killings."

Clearly, now is the time for intense debate about continued and extended use of drones in a wide policy space.

Importantly, in the CNN appearance mentioned above, Sen. Paul added that "[d]rones should only be used according to the Constitution." I certainly hope that he had this in mind, at least in part, when he said in South Carolina last week that "I will never take the country to war without just cause or without the constitutional approval of Congress." I couldn't agree more with the sentiment that Congress needs to play an active role in war policy, including the use of drones.

Gibson is an associate professor of political science at Westminster College in Missouri and a National Security Network (NSN) fellow. The views expressed here are not necessarily the views of NSN.