Drones and the moral dimension
By Taj M Khattak
(Vice Admiral (retd.))
Former president Jimmy Carter has criticised the incumbent US administration as abandoning its role as a champion of human rights and called on Washington to reverse course to regain moral leadership of the world. Writing in The New York Times, he observed that at a time when popular revolutions were sweeping the globe, the US should be strengthening, and not weakening, “basic rules of law and principles of justice.”
Carter, himself a Noble Peace Prize winner like President Obama, said he felt that while the US has made mistakes in the past, it is the last decade during which the widespread abuse of human rights took a dramatic turn. The US today is in clear violation of at least 10 of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, and therefore cannot lead the world with moral authority anymore. Whether it ever had any moral authority in the past, given how often in statecraft “supreme national interests” overlap humanitarian considerations, is another debate.
Most conspicuously, it is the drone strikes and targeted assassinations which are increasingly being seen abroad as the US violating human rights, according to the former president. In Pakistan, whenever there is a drone strike these days, the anger turns more towards Islamabad and Rawalpindi than Langley, Virginia. It is because the din of the two hurtful words emerging from the ashes of the Abbottabad operation, “complicity” and “incompetence,” is now getting too loud to ignore any longer.
UAVs started appearing over Kosovo in the late 1990s but it was in 2002 that a Predator first time killed six men in Yemen with a Hellfire missile, including one suspected of being involved in the attack on USS Cole. In 2000, the US had barely 90 drones with plans to increase the inventory to 200 by 2010. By March 2012, however, it had more than 9,500 of all types with names like Sentinel, Avenger, Wasp, Raven, Puma, Shadow, Scan Eagle, Global Hawk, Hunter, Gray Eagle, Predator, and Reaper – the last three being armed. The Reaper has a radius of action of 1,150 miles and endurance of 16-20 hours with 3,750 pounds ordinance comprising Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 and GBU-30 bombs.
There are nearly 1,000 US bases worldwide, many from the pre-drone era, which can now be suitably equipped for drone operations. With the COIN strategy becoming obsolete, drones are now a central element in US future military planning and a preferred way to flex its military muscle. Obama maintains that he has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation, but the insinuation here for the global South is unmistakeable.
There is now a constellation of more or less 60 confirmed bases in an ever-expanding and never-ending global assassination campaign called war on terror where analysts watch streaming videos of real-time intelligence inputs form UAVs across the globe 24/7, in what has been dubbed as “Death TV” channel and President Obama makes the final moral calculations on “collateral damage.”
After the eclipse of Shamsi and Shahbaz Air Bases in Pakistan, the new emerging regional centres of drone operations are Jalalabad, Kandahar, Bagram Airbase, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Bases (FOB) Edinburg, Delaram-II in Afghanistan, Al-Udeid in Qatar, Al-Dhafra in the UAE, Ali Al Salem and Al-Jaber in Kuwait, Seeb in Oman, in the Indian Ocean archipelago Seychelles, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Incirlik in Turkey, Kirkuk, FOB Baquba, Balal, Talil, Al-Asad in Iraq and an unnamed base in Saudi Arabia, to name some. Considering that drone operations are parented by CIA, these bases could almost certainly be more in numbers.
Since Afghanistan, countries which have been subjected to aerial attacks have also experienced UAVs strikes which have brought about a fundamental change in air warfare. More worrying is US intelligence which sometimes is nothing short of hallucination in broad daylight, like its assessment about Saddam Hussein possessing UAVs advanced enough to carry biological and chemical weaponry and spraying them over cities on the east coast of the US.
We know what happened to Saddam or his weapons of mass destruction. These days Obama is hallucinating about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. It is therefore natural that we are having sleepless nights over Obama’s fever dreams. After loosing the 4th-generation war in Afghanistan against an invisible enemy, the US is well on track for 5th-generation warfare with UAVs and Cyber attacks, where some argue, Obama has already done a Pearl Harbour on Iran. Those who live in glass towers do not hurl stones on others. The world is now bracing with anxiety for start of an “intifada” in the cyber battle space to ruin their lives further.
The ultimate capability aimed for in drone operations by the US is to pack “satellite capability” in an “aircraft package” to launch ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions over an area of interest for five or more years at a time and this project is codenamed “Vulture.” The longest drone flight so far has been reported to be 336 hours. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster which has turned a swath of Japan into a no-go zone may have put off the more ambitious “Vulture” project for the time being, which for sure has to be sourced from nuclear energy to achieve the designed performance.
Remote-controlled strikes anywhere on he planet with a minimal “footprint” and literally no accountability, is the new waypoint in the evolutionary process of American global power projection. Not that US has a very proud history of exercising moral authority in the past, maltreatment of indigenous Indians being just one example, but in its latest avatar, it is abetting its allies, alienating friends and not making the world any safer.
Obama has a middle name that he is shy to use, but hasn’t renounced either and he placed his hand on a bible before entering office. Regardless of where his moorings of faith lie, no God in any religion sanctions a man to be an executioner of other innocent men, women and children on His planet. The 9/11 tragedy in which innocent Americans lost their lives is condemnable in the strongest possible terms, but endless death on people who can’t tell 9 from 11 and are as far apart from the original 19 as the North Pole is from the South, is even worse.
If anything, the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have established limits of what its enormous military machine can achieve. The US has regressed in global geographical space and divisions in its political culture have intensified. It has proved incapable of winding up to its advantage wars which it started itself. It is unable to come to any consensus whether they are just wars or unnecessary, and caused an increasing drain on its national resources. It is the American hubris and narcissism which is coming in the way of its learning any lessons from history.
In spite of the hits that the Waziris take from the sky on a regular basis, they haven’t lost touch with wit and have nicknamed drones as Bhun-ghanaas; a wasp like insect with an irritating whine. They seem to make a point in describing the recent drone incident in Iran where an RQ-170 Sentinel fell into the hands of the Revolutionary Guards almost in mint condition. They are not too off the mark, as experts agree that there are numerous methods by which operations of remotely piloted aircraft can be seriously impacted upon ranging from use of lasers and dazzlers to blind or damage sensors to simple jammers to disrupt global positioning systems, not to mention a wide range of cyber attacks, the jamming of commercial satellite communications, and the spoofing or hijacking of drone data links.
The tribal people joke that the mullah-military alliance in Iran must have “whispered” some holy verses in its flight path and wonder why the same cannot happen in Pakistan. The US will not to go war with Pakistan just as it didn’t do in Iran. May be Rawalpindi has the answer, since Islamabad seemingly has other plans.
Source: Drones and the Moral Dimensions