(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 01, 2012
Drones: Changing the
Boundaries of War
successive UN special
rapporteurs on extrajudicial killings,
summary or arbitrary
executions, have said that use of drones by the
US REFUSING TO
is little doubt that
drone strikes have become the
are drones? Drones
are unmanned aerial vehicles that can fly for long periods,
carry cameras to
transmit pictures of what is being observed on the ground to
sitting somewhere else, and carries missiles and even “smart”
bombs for strikes
on the ground. The pilots can sit in a remote location, as far
The two of the most well-known drones are the Predators and Reapers. The Predator drones are the first mass produced drones inducted in the US Armed Forces. They can hover over targets for about half a day and carry “Hellfire” missiles. The Reapers are the later version, can hover over target areas for two or three days at 50,000 feet height, and carry, apart from the Hellfire missiles, also laser guided 500 lb bombs. One of the arguments that drones carry out surgical strikes is of course automatically negated if a couple of 500 lb bombs are also used. Nobody has accused 500 lb bombs of being surgical. Nor is there a difference between such bombs being dropped from manned aircraft or unmanned drones.
particularly attractive for the
makes the evolving
drone scenario particularly dangerous is that drones are no
longer hi-tech high
capital intensive toys that only the advanced countries can
build. The entire
avionics, or large portions of it, are the same in any of the
newer mobile phones.
The key sensors that help to fly the drones --- the gyroscope,
the GPS system --- are shared with any mobile phone today. The
that turns the image around every time you turn the mobile
phone around is also
the key to flying the drones. A huge new industry of hobby
drones has sprung
up, and advance-by-advance, they match the crucial technology
military drones. In other words, any country that today wants
to make or use
drones, can invest a small amount in the avionics or buy them
design a larger unmanned vehicle around it. They will have a
drone every bit as
sophisticated as the ones the
brings us to the
other intertwined question on drones – international
humanitarian law and of
course law of war as codified by the various
OR WAR CRIMES?
this is not a
caricature of the position. This is what officials of the
With such a due process (!), funerals and weddings have been attacked in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which obviously have a large number of civilians. Even schools have been attacked, killing a large number of children. A number of strikes have also been carried out when people have gone to rescue people after an initial strike; strikes which the UN rapporteur says are likely to be war crimes. All those killed should be happy that the US has killed them only after following a due process, and that makes it perfectly “legal.”
In the US, a debate is also on whether US citizens can be killed this way, without a “due process of law” as guaranteed under the constitution. The Obama administration’s answer is that a due process of law is not necessarily a judicial process --- as long as the US government has carried out “a process,” the constitutional guarantee of due process is satisfied.
The danger is that drones are now too easy to make. So what happens if 50 countries start using drones? What happens if they use the same logic and use it outside their territory? Does the laws of war change if drones are used instead of conventional weapons?
What the US has done is that it has used new technology of drones and cyber war to blur the distinction that existed in international law between what is legitimate and what is not. It has overridden both laws of war and international humanitarian law. In doing so, it justifies targeted killings provided it is the one carrying out such killings, while condemning it for others. It has made double standards into an official position --- it has imperial privileges that no other country can have.
OF TWO US PRESIDENTS
David Sanger in his new book Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power makes it clear that President Obama was fully involved in the drone war as he was with the cyber war. The drone wars are not an aberration of a particular US administration; it is now the declared policy of two successive US presidents.
Heyns succinctly stated the challenge of using drones, “My concern is that we are dealing here with a situation that creates precedence around the world. Not only for one particular country, for one particular administration, but this is technology that develops very fast and its almost as if there’s a genie that's about to come out of a bottle and unless the international community focuses on this, and not only this particular country but I think across the board, to establish and re-establish the legal framework within which this takes place. I think we're in for very dangerous precedents that can be used by countries on all sides.”
We will either have a free for all or a dual regime where only the US is allowed to use the drones outside its borders --- a regime similar to the nuclear ones where nuclear weapons are legal for one set of countries while being illegal for others. The problem is that even with nuclear weapons, this regime is not working. It is unlikely to work with drones too, as the technology is even easier.