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An Analysis of the Obama Administration’s Use of Combat Drone Strikes from Classical Realist and Liberal Perspectives


The drone strikes carried out in various locations in the Middle East under the authority of President Obama and his administration have sparked public outrage due to numerous leaked reports of innocent civilian casualties combined with immense collateral damage to the countries in which the drone strikes had been executed.

What is remarkable from an academic perspective is that it represents a classic example of the quintessential differences between a realist and liberal perspective on international law. Within this context, there are certain aspects of each theoretical approach to international relations that are extremely pertinent to the discussion of drone attacks as a case study.

Viewing realism and liberalism as antitheses, the former (i.) focuses its attention on the state as the primary actor in international relations, (ii.) values security over freedom in the international system, and (iii.) prefers power to interdependence with regard to relationships with other countries. Meanwhile classical liberalism (i.) places an emphasis on the individual (whether alone or as part of a larger governmental or non-governmental organization), (ii.) generally denounces unilateral action, and (iii.) stresses interdependence through cooperation for solving collective international problems. Continue reading