Obama’s “State of the Drone” THREATS TO HUMANITY
Posted on February 15th, 2013

Lucien Rajakarunanayake

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea remained unshaken by the many warnings and threats issued by the United States and the United Nations about its nuclear tests, as it was about its recent rocket testing and launching a communications satellite space. It went further by grabbing the headlines on February 12, when President Obama made his State of the Union Address to Congress, by announcing its latest successful nuclear test, which is believed to be a smaller bomb, and shows the success of its nuclear programme.

Not unexpectedly, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the nuclear test, and called for further sanctions against North Korea by the international community. However, although the United States, the UK and France were very loud in their criticisms of this latest move by North Korea, political analysts note that both Russia and China were not very enthusiastic about calls for even more sanctions against a country, which remains burdened with heavy sanctions for many years. Although coincidental, it was interesting that the UN Security Council resolution was adopted at meeting chaired by the Foreign Minister of South Korea, as it is the current president of the SC, and was addressed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean ambassador to the UN, with a call for tougher action.


Barack Obama

Navinethem Pillay

Ban Ki-moon

UN probe

It is also interesting that this call for more sanctions against North Korea has come at a time when the UN has itself initiated an important probe into, the increasing drone attacks by the United States on the territories of many countries, with which it is not at war. The reports of the increasing number of civilians killed in these attacks and the clear violation of national sovereignty of the affected countries is becoming a major issue, in which there seems to be little interest for action by those moving the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that is due to meet in Geneva, very shortly. There is silence on this by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, too, who is very loud on alleged war crimes in other countries that are outside the section of the international community led by the western powers.

The UN investigation into targeted killings will examine drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. As reported in the Guardian, UK (January 24), the review by the UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC, is expected include checks on military use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in UK operations in Afghanistan, US strikes in Pakistan, as well as the Sahel region of Africa where the conflict in Mali has erupted. It will also take evidence on Israeli drone attacks in the Palestinian territories.

About 20 or 30 strikes “”…” selected as representative of different types of attacks “”…” will be studied to assess the extent of any civilian casualties, the identity of militants targeted and the legality of strikes in countries where the UN has not formally recognized there is a conflict.

The inquiry will report to the UN general assembly in New York this autumn. Depending on its findings, it may recommend further action. Emmerson has previously suggested some drone attacks “”…” particularly those known as “double tap” strikes where rescuers going to the aid of a first blast have become victims of a follow-up strike “”…” could possibly constitute a “war crime”.

The inquiry will be co-ordinated through Emmerson’s UN office in Geneva. Among the team of experts working with him will be the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald QC, a former prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, and Dr Nat Cary, one of the UK’s most experienced pathologists who specialize in the interpretation of injuries caused by explosions.

The inquiry is the result of a request by several nations, including Pakistan and two permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Guardian reported.

The real threat “”…” Drone or Nuclear?

Although the West, led by the United States, continues to make much of the nuclear threat to the world, aimed mainly at Iran and North Korea – the first having declared it has no intent of developing a nuclear bomb, and the latter having its own nuclear weapons programme – there are many doubts as to the seriousness of this threat, in the real context of the availability of nuclear weapons in the world today.


US drones in  Afghanistan

There is total silence on the nuclear capability of Israel, with a large nuclear arsenal. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed states that have had three wars, and there is much concern about the stability of Pakistan in the context of terrorism in the region. The US, UK, and France, Russia and China also have nuclear weapons. The question that arises is – what is this great threat to the world in more states adding these weapons to their armouries. The only answer is that they are “rogue” states, as seen so by the West.

Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins has interesting observations to make of the actual danger to the world today. In his column in the Guardian Weekly (January 18) Jenkins states: “The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation. Nuclear bombs are useless weapons, playthings for the powerful. Drones are now sweeping the global arms market. There are some 10,000 said to be in service, of which a thousand are armed and mostly American. Reports say they have killed more non-combatant civilians than died in 9/11.

Explaining this further Jenkins states: “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-qaeda-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 jeopardizing pilots’ lives.

“Quite apart from ethics and law, I find it impossible to see what contribution these weapons make for winning wars.

“The killing of officers merely sees others replace them, eager for revenge. The original Predator was intended for surveillance but was adapted for bombing to kill Osama bin Laden. When he was found, the drone was considered too inaccurate a device to risk, and old fashioned boots-with-guns had to be sent instead.

“As for the inevitable killing of civilians, however few or many, this is not just “collateral damage” but critical to victory or defeat. It does not occupy or hold territory and it devastates hearts and minds. Aerial bombardment has long been a questionable weapon of war. It induces not defeat but retaliation.”

He explains that: “Since the drone war began in earnest in 2008, there has been no decline in Taliban or al-Qaida performance attributable to it. Any let-up in recruitment is merely awaiting NATO’s departure. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has called the attacks “in no way justifiable”. The Pakistan government, at whose territory they are increasingly directed, has withdrawn all permission.”

Jenkins quotes the young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana who stated in his protest in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country; they erase “years of progress and trust-building with tribes”. Yemenis now face Al-qaeda recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Notional membership of Al-qaeda in Yemen is reported to have grown by three times since 2009. Jimmy Carter declares that “America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends”.

“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-qaeda 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.

suicide bombers

“In this the drone is fool’s gold. Driven by high-pressure arms salesmanship, Obama (and David Cameron) is briefed that they are the no-hands war of the future, safe, easy, clean, “precision targeted”. No one on our side need get hurt.

“The tenuous legality of this form of combat requires the aggressor to have “declared war” on another state. But Al-qaeda is no state. As a result these attacks on foreign soil are not just wars of choice, they are wars of self-invention.

How soon will it be before the US finds itself “at war” with Iran and Syria, and sends over the drones? When it does, and the killing starts, it can hardly complain when the victims retaliate with suicide bombers.

“Nor will it just be suicide bombers. Drones are cheap and will easily proliferate. Eleven states deploy them already. The US is selling them to Japan to help against China. China is building 11 bases for its Anjian drones along its coast. The Pentagon is now training more drone operators than pilots. What happens when every nation with an air force does likewise, and every combustible border is buzzing with them?

“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.” Simon Jenkins concludes.

Time magazine in its latest issue of February 11, 13, has the “Rise of the Drones” as its cover story. It is an exhaustive piece on the rise and spread of the drones in warfare today, being the favourite of President Barack Obama.

It also raises many serious worries about the spread of the drones in the coming years, and the growing trend promoted by the US, of countries dispatching drones to foreign countries to protect the sender’s citizens. It raises the important questions of what would happen if another country sent drones to the US to protect that country’s citizens. These do not remain interesting questions. They are the emerging dangers of today, full of the possibility of “war crimes” in conflicts that are not declared and carried out by stealth, through the rapid progress of technology.

Probes that have been launched by the UN on the US use of drones and many more such studies are needed, including the impact of these on human rights and their use vis-ƒÆ’†’ -vis humanitarian law due to the large number of civilians killed. There are issues of reciprocity in the attacks and that of attacks on clear civilian concentrations. This calls for a new focus of international attention on Human Right and War Crimes taking the actual threat to humanity into consideration. Ban Ki-moon, Navinethem Pillay and others need to pay much more attention to this today, than remain hooked on to alleged accountabilities in past conflicts.

One Response to “Obama’s “State of the Drone” THREATS TO HUMANITY”

  1. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    North Korean leadership realizes that the overwhelming power of the United States nuclear machine with 3,000 operational and 7,000 nuclear weapons overall would, turn their country into a charcoal briquette and the United States’ strategy with the right-wing government in South Korea in pressuring China, North Korea’s traditional ally, to go along with the program since China fears that there’s growing danger of an actual war in the Pacific to isolate North Korea. North Korea has carried out a nuclear test, the third responding to the major massive United States military exercises that are conducted in a way to stage a mock invasion and bombing of North Korea which was indeed invaded. Twenty years ago after the demise of the Soviet Union the United States strategic command reoriented hydrogen bombs away from the Soviet Union and targeting North Korea. And that’s when the North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and began building its own nuclear capacity.

    Last month North Korea said the lesson of the Libyan and the Iraq invasion when the United States either invaded or bombed governments that were targeted, that both of those governments had agreed to disarm, had abandoned any weapons of mass destruction, and the North Korean interpretation of that is, if you disarm, the United States will not say, “Thank you, let’s have peace”, but the United States will say, “Thank you, now we can prepare more aggressively for an invasion or a bombing campaign.” North Korea is determined not to let that happen, and that’s how they view the development of their nuclear arsenal – it’s strictly defensive, it’s not a threat.

    The economic sanctions by United States are having a very big impact and are now basically depriving North Korea of access to international banking. United States hopes if it can break China, it will do it to North Korea what it did to Iraq as a precursor to regime change. China is pursuing an appeasement foreign policy with the United States after the Barack Obama announced the pivot of Asia. The United States is militarizing its presence in the Pacific; China is very worried that the Korean Peninsula could become a spark causing a larger conflagration right on its own boundaries. So China is upset with North Korea, but North Korea isn’t listening to China, North Korean leadership is not thinking mainly about China but it is thinking how it can avoid being collapsed, either by economic sanctions, or military pressure, or combination of both.

    United States needs to stop threatening North Korea and needs to sign a peace treaty, which it refuses to do, and actually end the Korean War, rather than just armistice, which was on July 26, 1953, 60 years ago. United States needs to lift the sanctions, and need to normalize relations. That almost happened in the last eight days of the Bill Clinton administration, it was the beginning of a thaw, the United States could go by that road, but it seems that the Barack Obama is acting a lot like George W. Bush.

    The Korean Peninsula is so hot and tense; it’s the most heavily-militarized part of the world. Even though none of the countries want a full-scale war, any small incident in the Korean Peninsula could lead to both sides stepping on the escalation ladder. The need now is to reduce tensions, and the onus for that is not on North Korea which is not threatening the United States, it’s the United States that should stop carrying out war games simulating the invasion and bombing of North Korea and lift sanctions.

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