Friday, January 11, 2013

Are Drones Self-Defeating?

Ask any Somali, Yemeni or Pakistani mountain tribesman.   Barack Obama likes his drones or, more accurately, likes to use his drones to obliterate people he thinks deserve to be wiped from the face of the earth.  It seems that not a week goes by that the Americans aren't whacking some top al Qaeda leader.  Imagine the job description: "...rapid promotion ...short hours ...early retirement."

Yet, judging by Obama's seemingly endless success there appears to be no end to al Qaeda leadership in need of whacking.   So, what gives?

The Guardian's Simon Jenkins contends that drone warfare is little more than a means of prolonging wars we cannot win.

I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the horn of Africa that suggests these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their "success" is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called "al-Qaida-linked commanders" killed. If body count were victory, the Germans would have won Stalingrad and the Americans Vietnam.

Neither the legality nor the ethics of drone attacks bear examination. Last year's exhaustive report by lawyers from Stanford and New York universities concluded that they were in many cases illegal, killed civilians, and were militarily counter-productive. Among the deaths were an estimated 176 children. Such slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled. Air forces enjoy such prestige that civilian deaths are excused as a price worth paying for not jeopardising pilots' lives.

 ...The drone wars seem pointless yet unstoppable. Their appeal to western leaders lies partly in their sheer novelty, partly in the hope they may make defeat less awful. They are like the USS New Jersey's shelling of Lebanon's Chouf mountains in 1984, a blood-thirsty display to cover withdrawal. The drone is not an aid to victory, but it eases the defeat its use has made more likely.

The Taliban in Waziristan are no threat to London or to Washington. Al-Qaida can do no more to undermine the state than set off the occasional bomb, best prevented by domestic intelligence. Today's "wars of choice" reflect a more sinister aspect of democracy. Elected leaders seem to crave them, defying all warnings of the difficulty of ending them. Mesmerised by Margaret Thatcher's gain from the Falklands, they all want a good war.

 ...I did not fear nuclear proliferation because I believe such bombs are mere prestige acquisitions, so horrible not even lunatics would use them. Drones are different. When they were called guided missiles, they were in some degree governed by international law and protocol, as was the practice of global assassination.

Obama rejects all that. He and the US are teaching the world that a pilotless aircraft is a self-justifying, self-exonerating, legal and effective weapon of war. However counter-productive a drone may be strategically, it cuts a glamorous dash on the home front. It is hard to imagine a greater danger to world peace.

Some observers are predicting that an aerial drone war could break out between Japan and China over the contested Senkakus/Diaoyu islands.   Both countries are "droning up."   Japan intends to deploy American Predators.   China is fielding what looks like an exact copy of the American drone.


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