Dealing with Risk: Precision Strikes and Interventionism in the Obama Administration

Andre Barrinha, Luis Da Vinha

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Since taking office, the Obama Administration has significantly expanded the use and geographical scope of precision strikes, authorising missions ranging from Libya to Pakistan. While very effective in the short term, the use of precision strike capabilities, particularly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), raises doubts as to the long-term consequences of these strikes, especially regarding the social and political effects in the countries where those strikes take place. Drawing on Ulrich Beck’s world risk society approach, this chapter highlights how the current US military intervention policy attempts to combine a ‘risk management’ (Coker, 2009) logic with a precise threat assessment exercise in which the enemy has to be clearly identified and dealt with. This, it will be argued, leads to the micromanagement of war in the context of a risk society that depoliticises the use of military force, and transfers the risk associated with its use to the security subjects of the intervened upon countries. ‘The weapon of choice’ is an expression commonly associated with the usage of UAVs by the first Obama Administration and which accurately portrays how the use of precision strikes has moved up the ladder of US strategic priorities (see Brennan, 2012; Gates, 2010). UAVs are no longer mere complementary pieces of a larger military puzzle; they are its core: the starting point from which everything else is enabled. Technological developments help to explain why President Obama has decided to invest intensively in the use of UAVs. This is, however, insufficient to enable us to understand how they are used. Technology alone fails to explain why precision strikes have been prominently transformed into targeted killings or why Washington uses these new weapons against targets in countries that are not at war with the US. As argued in this chapter, there is a common rationale to why Washington is using UAVs for targeted killings that is better understood if one resorts to the risk literature, namely to the concepts of risk society (Beck, 1992, 1998), risk wars (Beck, 2009; Coker, 2009; Rasmussen, 2006) and, within the latter, risk-transfer (Shaw, 2005).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPrecision Strike Warfare and International Intervention
Subtitle of host publicationStrategic, Ethico-Legal and Decisional Implications
EditorsMike Aaronson, Wali Aslam, Tom Dyson, Regina Rauxloh
Place of PublicationOxon
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781317912941, 9781315850528
ISBN (Print)9780415730204
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • American Foreign Policy
  • Drones
  • international relations (IR)
  • Interventionism
  • Barack Obama


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