Sudha Setty, Western New England University School of Law


In the 1980s, Professor Derrick Bell posited a theory of interest convergence as part of his critical race theory work, arguing that the major strides forward in civil rights law and policy that benefited African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s only occurred because of the perceived benefits of those changes to white elites during that time. In Bell’s view, it was only at the point at which the interests of powerful whites converged with those of marginalized racial minorities that significant changes in civil rights law could occur.

Twelve years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, numerous lawmakers, scholars, activists, and policy makers find themselves entrenched in a different struggle for civil and human rights: combating counterterrorism laws and policies that overreach in their efforts to detain, interrogate, surveil, and kill suspected terrorists.

In this Symposium Essay, I use Professor Bell’s theory of interest convergence to frame the debate over an increasingly common counterterrorism tool: the use of unmanned aerial vehicles ("drones") to target and kill individuals suspected of encouraging or planning terrorist acts.

Interest convergence theory can help us examine the shifting parameters of the drone program in several ways: first, to map the areas of interest convergence between politically powerful groups and those interested in protecting marginalized groups such as Muslims and Arabs, which can help explain why certain limitations on the use of targeted killings have been put into place already; second, to consider the plausibility of the fulfillment of the promises made by President Obama in his May 2013 speech on the administration’s national security policies, in which he stated that the parameters of the targeted killings program will be narrowed; and third, in a limited fashion, to consider whether interest convergence can offer guidance on pushing for further limitations on the use of drones for targeted killings.