Free Markets, Free People

Drone wars–here’s something to think about

As most know, we’ve been very successful using drones to kill our adversaries in many places to include Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.  But the way we employ them has thus far pretty much gone unopposed and, more importantly, has mostly been limited to use by us and our allies.

What if we weren’t the only power with drones (in fact that’s already the case):

At the Zhuhai air show in southeastern China last November, Chinese companies startled some Americans by unveiling 25 different models of remotely controlled aircraft and showing video animation of a missile-armed drone taking out an armored vehicle and attacking a United States aircraft carrier.

Farfetched?  Most would say “yes” right now, but in the future – well who knows?  The point is clear.  We’ve started something that perhaps we will regret at some point:

“The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Missile Contagion,” who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology. “The copycatting is what I worry about most.”

In relative terms, drones are cheap and much less dangerous to use for the user.  So if any of the following happen, how do we criticize or condemn?

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

The author has a point. And it’s not just other countries we have to worry about.

However, it would be rather hard to condemn their use given our actions and activities.   While it might be argued that we had at least the tacit approval of the government’s involved, again, we’re making armed incursions into sovereign territory in the name of pursuing our enemies pretty much at will.  And for the most part other countries have been silent about that.

Doesn’t that give them the opportunity to a) ignore any protest we might launch if they do the same thing and b) pretty much dilutes any protest we might have if the same (unlikely) is done to us?

I’m not really commenting here on the efficiency of the tactics involved or the even the morality of the strikes, but more the practical and expected backlash – others will expect to do the same thing we do for the same ostensible reason, and we won’t have a leg to stand on if we protest.

Not that our protests yield much fruit when we do make them, but as Dennis Gormley hints, we’ve opened Pandora’s box here and we’re going to have a heck of a time, if not an impossible time, closing it again. 


Twitter: @McQandO

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20 Responses to Drone wars–here’s something to think about

  • Not sure I understand your brief in posing the hypotheticals you do, McQ.
    How would the tool used change the policy?
    Substitute manned planes for your drones.  A military asset is a military asset, yes?  Even a missile fired from a stand-off point in the airspace of a permissive country is an incursion into the target nation’s airspace.
    What about space-based weapons?  (Where we had a clear advantage that the Obami just surrendered, years ago.)

    • By not risking a man, drones seem cheaper, and I don’t mean monetarily.

      • Oh, I agree as to US, and people like us.  And they ARE cheaper in that respect.
        We are NOT the norm, however.
        Of course, the next gen (or the next NEXT gen) air-superiority fighters WILL be drones.

  • The precedent goes back further really, to the days when major powers would sail up with a battleship, and if they thought they could get away with it, lob some rounds ashore to enforce whatever it was they wanted.
    I’ve long been opposed to this willy nilly violation of smaller countries sovereign territory (note, we don’t DO that to countries that can hit us back) via ranged munitions.  The chicken will eventually come home to roost, it’s as inevitable.

    • I think you hit on the nut of the problem. Drones are smaller, cheaper, safer and can and will be rigged to carry weapons with higher and higher lethal yields. We’re not talking battleships (which most nations don’t have), advanced fighters (which most nations couldn’t successfully penetrate our airspace with) or space based weapons (denied to most nations as cost and technology prohibitive). Everyone can afford drones. We’re talking simple, cheap (in relative terms), able to fly low and mostly invisible, penetrate our airspace and deliver their payload.

      What leg, if any, do we have to protest such a use if the country (or group) see at a legitimate use against a legitimate target?

      • Rationally, none.  But the same applies (again, in my thinking) to sending in a corporal with a pistol.
        A military asset is a military asset.  A drone is cheap and hard to detect.  So is a corporal with a pistol.
        Both can be very effective.

        • We don’t send corporals with pistols.

          While I acknowledge that all of those are breeches of sovereignty, they’re pretty much limited to the greater powers. This is the poor fighter’s entre into that world, something we’ve not really dealt with to this point. We’d consider someone infiltrating the country, setting up a bomb and blowing up something or someone to be an act of war. Yet, we seem to daily do much the same thing with drones.

          What’s our possible legal or moral response to someone doing the same with their drones? Act of war? Well why isn’t it an act of war (or at lest treated as such) when we do it?

          Or are we going to admit the big dog gets to do pretty much whatever he wants to do and the rest of the world can pack sand? And if we do make that our position, how then can we ever claim any moral high ground?

          • We don’t send corporals with pistols.

            Beg your pardon.  We send in petty officers with pistols.  As in OBL, remember?
            We agree.  It seems we are talking past each other somehow.  NTTAWWT…
            My point is that ANYBODY with a military has the ability to project lethal force into ANY nation.  Drones are kind of a red herring to the global (i.e., big picture) argument.  IMNHO.

            “Or are we going to admit the big dog gets to do pretty much whatever he wants to do and the rest of the world can pack sand? And if we do make that our position, how then can we ever claim any moral high ground?”
            This is the thing that has pissed me off for a while..  Back in the 1800’s the west imposed opium on China.  It’s not like the big dog policy is new, but I still hate it, and I hate that we’re so damned blatant about employing it now just because we don’t have to worry about the Russians or our trading partners, competitors, the Chinese.

          • And what was that clown in Boston building to fly into the Pentagon?  Why….explosive drones…now, where did he get that idea?

  • Something else to think about.  A computer virus has hit the US drone fleet.

  • If China is making drones, then they will be selling them cheaply.
    Its only a matter of time before the Taliban are fielding them. Do we have a defense against suicide drones?

  • Is an old issue in a new package.  Elite forces, spies, etc.  that target enemies.
    The alternative is to declare war on the host nation.

  • Because they are so cheap and relatively easy to operate, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before someone somewhere uses one in a manner we don’t like.  And I think that’s destined to happen even if we’d never used one.  It’s probably better that we remain on the cutting edge and attempt to stay ahead of of our enemies.  Minimizing the chance of them being used against us is a lot more about our foreign policy at large than one particular fighting tool we employ.

  • China doesn’t need drones; they have enough excess men to act as their version of Kamikazes.