Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



There’s something about drones that makes sane people crazy. Is it those lean, futurist profiles? The activities drone technologies enable? Or perhaps it’s just the word itself–drone–a mindless, unpleasant, dissonant thrum. Whatever the cause, drones seem to produce an unusual kind of cognitive dissonance in many people.

Some demonize drones, denouncing them for causing civilian deaths or enabling long-distance killing, even as they ignore the fact that the same (or worse) could be said of many other weapons delivery systems. Others glorify them as a low-cost way to “take out terrorists,” despite the strategic vacuum in which most drone strikes occur. Still others insist that US drone policy is just “business as usual,” despite the fact that these attacks may undermine US foreign policy goals while creating an array of new problems.

It is worth taking a closer look at what is and is not new and noteworthy about drone technologies and the activities they enable. Ultimately, “drones” as such present few new issues—but the manner in which the US has been using them raises grave questions about their strategic efficacy and unintended consequences. In fact, the legal theories used to justify many US drone strikes risk dangerously hollowing out the rule of law itself.

Publication Citation

Rosa Brooks, Drones and Cognitive Dissonance, in DRONES, REMOTE TARGETING AND THE PROMISE OF LAW (Peter Bergen & Daniel Rothenberg, eds., New York: Cambridge University Press forthcoming)