By Roland Paris, Globe and Mail September 14, 2011
The drone’s rise to prominence is a remarkable story. Ten years ago, the U.S. military had fewer than 60 in its arsenal; today, it has more than 6,000. Many of these unmanned aircraft are used only for surveillance, but some models can carry missiles or bombs. The Predator C Avenger, for example, can cruise at 53,000 feet for as many as 20 continuous hours, tracking targets on the ground with powerful sensors. It can also carry 3,000 pounds of precision munitions.
It’s an open secret that the CIA runs a major drone program in Pakistan. According to statistics compiled by the Washington-based New America Foundation, there were nine U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 to 2007 and 33 in 2008, the final year of George W. Bush’s administration. After Barack Obama became President, that figure jumped to 53 in 2009 and 118 in 2010.
Three months ago, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the CIA would launch a similar lethal drone program in Yemen, where the U.S. military has been conducting occasional strikes against al-Qaeda affiliates for years. The Washington Post then reported the first U.S. drone attack against militants in Somalia. If these reports are accurate, they point to a significant escalation of the clandestine drone war – with little fanfare or public debate....
The revolution in robotic warfare is about to go global. Many countries are trying to develop or acquire remote-controlled “drone” aircraft such as those the United States has used to kill hundreds of alleged militants in Pakistan. Before this proliferation occurs, liberal democracies should be working to clarify and strengthen international rules on the use of these weapons systems.
The U.S. seems to be taking the opposite course, extending its drone campaign to countries far removed from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan – including Yemen and Somalia – and using rules of engagement that are, at best, obscure and, at worst, illegal.
This is a dangerously short-sighted strategy. While execution by drone may appear to be a relatively low-cost and low-risk option for dealing with America’s enemies, it legitimizes methods that other countries may be expected to follow once they acquire similar capabilities.
Canada, which doesn’t yet operate armed drones, has little to say on the subject. We have traditionally spoken strongly for international law, but apparently not in this case.
"Controlling the message" in today's politics is at least as important as "setting the agenda" for the political culture. In fact, they seem to have become one and the same. And drones are an excellent example of how to control the message, while still taking serious action against enemies. There is no coverage in the press of the country using the drones (in most cases still, this means the U.S.). Therefore there is no need to explain how many people were killed. Certainly there are no casualties among the pilots of these machines, because they sit in a simulated cockpit somewhere perhaps in Nevada, and command/direct/fly these lethal weapons into the skies over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. At least these are the countries we know about.
As with the hiring of military contractors of all types, including interrogators, the United States government does not have to answer for the behaviour of their "agents" who are merely carrying out the directives from the Pentagon in a manner for which the contracting agent, the United States, is not and does not wish to be, responsibile.
Stealth warfare is, nevertheless, still killing. It leaves hundreds of innocent victims dead, maimed and literally unaccounted for, except and unless some reporter for some "western" media outlet happens to find and upload the story in the west, and that happens so rarely that there is really an umbrella of silence on these operations.
In secret, there are no rules and regulations because there is no evidence and no place to bring the evidence for a "due process" hearing. One of the main reasons the U.S. has not signed on to the International Criminal Court is that if and when it does, then its operatives will be subject to the jurisdiction of that court, something they do not seek, thereby "permitting" them to operate outside the law.
Allies of the U.S., and this list includes Canada, are loathe to "go public" with any initiative that would attempt to bring new technologies, including drones, under international law, because Canada too may harbour ambitions to acquire these "stealth killers" under the guise of the $70 billion currently being allocated for fighter jets and ships. Secrecy is a major component in current military/intelligence/national security operations and that secrecy is growing in both depth and in public acceptance given the last decade of "cover-up" in the name of making us all safer from terrorist attacks.
Not only has America lost its innocence following 9/11; she has also lost (newspeak would say "gained") the cloke of the internationally accepted standards of military conduct and civil liberties in the obsessive pursuit of appeasing the paranoia that is at the core of much of the U.S. response to 9/11.
We can hear, without having to sit in the war rooms of the Pentagon, the Congress and the White House, the conversations that deploy secret weaponry.
"The technology is there and it is one of our best weapons against what is now a 'secret' enemy operating from anywhere, anytime, without regard to international rules of military conduct, so why wouldn't we use it? Who is going to stop us in the first place? And when and if the New York Times and the Washington Post and CNN find out, they will only be able to find disconnected pieces of the story from 'enemy sources' and not from our official sources and the story will literally have no legs."
We have known about espionage carried on by most developed countries against other developed countries, throughout the Cold War; however, the rules have essentially been set aside, given the unscripted and unplanned and non-state terror of the last decade plus.
We now risk both the continuation of secret war theatres carried out by the U.S. and her allies, but soon the same mode of conduct from other less 'allied' players, as the technology becomes available and the war games escalate.
This is just one more important and compelling reason for the international community, (and it could be led by middle powers like Canada, but won't be, under the current goverment) to bring international relations under some new multilateral, enforceable agreements that must include the globalization of the world economy, and the rules of conflict especially as it regards international co-operation in the fight against non-state terrorism. And that initiative can not find momentum too soon. It is already long overdue, and that is another reason why refusing to face reality, by many of the candidates for president in the current Republican "batch," is so frightening.