Rinehart on Walsh and Schulzke, 'Drones and Support for the Use of Force'

James Igoe Walsh, Marcus Schulzke
Christine Sixta Rinehart

James Igoe Walsh, Marcus Schulzke. Drones and Support for the Use of Force. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018. 252 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-472-13101-3.

Reviewed by Christine Sixta Rinehart (University of South Carolina in Palmetto College) Published on H-Diplo (June, 2019) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53802

Most existing literature on drone warfare addresses either legal and ethical implications or foreign policy considerations of the technology. Exploring a new avenue of research, Drones and Support for the Use of Force assesses the role of public opinion of the practice of drone warfare. The book provides a timely examination of the American public’s considerations for the costs of conflict and these considerations’ influence of the public’s support for military action. The book relies on survey experiments that the authors, James Igoe Walsh and Marcus Schulzke, designed to answer their research questions, including data created by the market research companies Yougov and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The authors pre-registered their plans for using the data in order to receive it from the market research companies, thus ensuring that the data was used to test hypotheses as opposed to aligning their research afterward with the results of the data. In addition, Walsh and Schulzke have kindly made their data and analysis codes accessible to the public.

Each chapter concentrates on a different research theme and includes a literature review that is germane to the topic. Chapter 1 provides the introduction to the book and an explanation of what each chapter will cover. Chapter 2 inquires whether drones alter the American public’s support for the use of force. Walsh and Schulzke find that drones do increase support for the use of force and drone strikes are favorable to ground force attacks. The authors also find that both Democrats and Republicans equally support the use of drone strikes even though Democrats are less inclined to support military force in general. Air strikes and drone strikes are equally favored.

In chapter 3, the authors discuss a vignette-based survey experiment they designed. Respondents were given a false news story that stated that al-Qaeda had established training camps in Yemen and were planning to attack American troops from these camps. The news story was then followed up with a brief American attack strategy complete with expected casualities. After reading these two pieces of information, respondents were asked to rank their support concerning four questions. The results showed that the American public’s fear of casualties increases support for new military techniques. However, over time, the authors note that support for drones may wane and it is possible that drones may cause public ambivalence in consideration of casualties.

The principal policy objective expectations of the public are pursued in chapter 4, and Walsh and Schulzke find that drones garner more support for every other type of principal policy objective. Public support for counterterrorism objectives was higher across the board than any other policy objective since the War on Terror began almost two decades ago. This indicates that respondents were willing to risk the lives of American soldiers in certain anti-terror missions.

The authors investigate the concept of moral hazard in chapter 5, which occurs when an individual is inclined to take greater risks when penalties are low. When applied to drones, the authors examine whether the public is more likely to support drone warfare since costs are low and are inflicted on the civilian population in another country. The authors conclude that the American public does not view drones to be any more or less effective than other types of military operations. In addition, drones do not create any moral hazard. The concept of moral hazard is one of the most prevalent criticisms for the use of drones, and yet Walsh and Schulzke find that the public was not more inclined to support the use of drones simply because the cost to the American military personnel was lower.[1]

Chapter 6 investigates the American public’s sensitivity to civilian harm during drone strikes. The authors find that when drones, described as high accuracy and low fatality weapons, were used, civilian deaths were more regrettable than when less accurate weaponry was used in attacks. When the weapon is more accurate, the military is expected to take greater steps to avoid civilian harm. Finally, concern for civilian casualties declined when manned aircraft were used versus unmanned aircraft. This implies that the public is willing to put pilots at risk if civilian casualties are low. The conclusion provides a nice summary of the book and presents future policy implications for research.

Drone and Support for the Use of Force is an important contribution on the role of public opinion in the use of drone warfare and is the first book of its kind to delve deeply into the concept of the roboticization of warfare and the subsequent views of the public. If all other factors are the same, the American public is more interested in fighting a war with drones than with soldiers on the ground. Written at a graduate level, the book can be used for undergraduate classes but employs statistical regression in several chapters, which may be inappropriate for many undergraduate classes. Both academics and policymakers will find the book useful to understand how the public views and assesses drone warfare. Overall, Drone and Support for the Use of Force destroys many of the common myths concerning drone warfare and is an essential book for policymakers and scholars of unmanned aerial vehicles.


[1]. For a deeper discussion on moral hazard, see John Kaag and Whitley Kaufman, “Military Frameworks: Technological Knowhow and the Legitimization of Warfare,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 22, no. 4 (2009): 585-606; and Sarah Kreps and John Kaag,The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Contemporary Conflict: A Legal and Ethical Analysis,” Polity 44. no. 2 (2012): https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1057/pol.2012.2.

Christine Sixta Rinehart is an associate professor of political science at the University of South Carolina in Palmetto College. Her first book Volatile Social Movements and the Origins of Terrorism: The Radicalization of Change was published in 2012 by Lexington Books. Her second book, Drones and Targeted Killing in the Middle East and Africa: An Appraisal of American Counterterrorism Policies, was published by Lexington Books in 2016. Her third book, Sexual Jihad: The Role of Islam in Female Terrorism, will be published in June 2019 by Lexington Books. She can be reached at sixta@mailbox.sc.edu.

Citation: Christine Sixta Rinehart. Review of Walsh, James Igoe; Schulzke, Marcus, Drones and Support for the Use of Force. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. June, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53802

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