J. D. Heyes
March 29, 2013
Today, U.S. political and military leaders may have the technological upper hand, as they say, in terms of emerging unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, but what happens when other nations around the world – and especially “competitor” nations – get them as well?
Could they themselves become targets of their own drone proliferation? It’s a question worthy of examination, now that the “technology has moved well beyond the control of the United States government and its closest allies,” the National Journal reports.
More from the Journal:
The aircraft are too easy to obtain, with barriers to entry on the production side crumbling too quickly to place limits on the spread of a technology that promises to transform warfare on a global scale. Already, more than 75 countries have remote piloted aircraft. More than 50 nations are building a total of nearly a thousand types. At its last display at a trade show in Beijing, China showed off 25 different unmanned aerial vehicles. Not toys or models, but real flying machines.
The U.S. has used drones to target and kill terrorists around the globe for years now, using large UAVs that carry standard (and equally large) weapons like Hellfire missiles.
But drone technology is miniaturizing, making the vehicles smaller and smaller – and perhaps undetectable, a development that will usher in a host of sinister uses. And right now, the rules for their use are being written by U.S. administrations who don’t yet understand the long-term implications of their actions.
Drone technology is out of the bag
Drone proliferation is following the classic evolutionary cycle of military innovation: A technology is developed by an advanced country before it is eventually copied (and in some cases improved upon) through follow-on development in other countries.
“But what makes this case rare, and dangerous, is the powerful combination of efficiency and lethality spreading in an environment lacking internationally accepted guidelines on legitimate use,” the National Journal reported. “This technology is snowballing through a global arena where the main precedent for its application is the one set by the United States; it’s a precedent Washington does not want anyone following.”
And yet, why wouldn’t they?
We have written the rules for global drone use
As the paper notes, Washington has established a set of protocols, if you will, for drone usage, and these protocols are well outside the traditional U.S. legal and moral frameworks as they pertain to the use of the military and war-making in general. Instead, subsequent administrations have bypassed the constitutional process for waging war “in favor of a secret program never publicly discussed, based on legal advice never properly vetted,” the paper notes.
Targeted drone strikes were begun during the Bush administration and have expanded in the Obama White House, with the latter shunning both lawmakers interested in oversight and federal court monitoring.
The covert program centers on the adoption of a tool lowering the threshold for the use of lethal force by reducing the risk and cost of combat. Use of drones in a counter-terrorism role is still expanding, with the administration claiming the right to kill terrorists and terrorist suspects, even if they are Americans, “outside of traditionally defined battlefields and established protocols for warfare,” said the Journal. Such unrestricted drone usage “has given friends and foes a green light to employ these aircraft in extraterritorial operations that could not only affect relations between nation-states but also destabilize entire regions and potentially upset geopolitical order.”
If that sounds far-fetched, consider some of these lethal extra-territorial uses for drones by governments other than the United States:
– With the approval of Damascus, Iran could employ them against rebel enemies of the Assad regime.
– Russia could use a drone to strike militants who may be attempting to tamper with oil and gas pipelines in Georgia or the Ukraine.
– Turkey may use a U.S.-provided Predator drone to strike Kurdish militants in northern Iraq that it believes may be planning a cross-border attack.
And so on.
Other countries and non-state actors are watching how the U.S. has been employing its drones, under the guise of fighting terrorism. And they are no doubt planning for the day when they, too, will have similar drone technology. Will they use them to target U.S. lawmakers and officials?
There is no reason to expect that they wouldn’t.
This article was posted: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 5:25 am