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.