What Drone Technology Has Unleashed

Drones in AmericaImagine sitting in a comfortable chair in your living room, watching a TV screen that shows people on the ground in a country thousands of miles away.  Suddenly you get the feeling that something terrible is about to happen and then – boom! – the people on your screen have been blown to smithereens, reduced to puffs of smoke, just as in videogames.  Except that these are real human beings, and nobody knows why they just got killed.  All we know is that a young American soldier at a command center felt Americans were in danger and made the decision to obliterate those people from a remote location.

This is a scene out of a sanitized war, one in which there are no boots on the ground or a court order – but plenty of people being killed, young and old, without any proof that they are really our enemies.  Such is the new frontline of the war on terror, where the U.S. can go anywhere in the world to kill so-called enemies. But whatever happened to international laws, including the ones that Washington signed?  How can we possibly believe that we can get away with this practice – that we can avoid retaliation by angry kids who have lost parents and relatives in such attacks years later?  Such shortsighted policies are downright scary.

Now that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars appear to be winding down, our military-industrial complex need new sources of income. The only way arms manufacturers can grow is to sell more weapons – which can only happen if there are armed conflicts.  Another way these corporations expand is by developing new weapons (such as drones) that can also be used domestically and therefore in larger markets.  Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), drones are regarded by the Military-Industrial Complex as part of a growth industry.

Now suppose that China (or any other country for that matter) was convinced that there was a group in America – a “terrorist” group – that wanted to harm its people.  How “justified” would China be – legally or otherwise – if it were to send predator drones over U.S. airspace to kill their terrorists?  How legitimate would their missions be of vaporizing presumed terrorists on American soil?  Would the Chinese be permitted to sanitize their actions by saying their security was at stake, as Washington does?  Further, how would we react if this were done to us?  Haven’t we started a perpetual war and instilled perpetual fear around the world!

Here at home, meanwhile, the use of drones will at the very least undermine our civil liberties.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that 10,000 drones (presumably unarmed for surveillance purposes) will fly over U.S. airspace in the next few years.  Our backyards can be watched and our windows snooped into without any of us even knowing about it.  This is yet another example of the types of unintended consequences that U.S. defense policymakers have set in motion, thanks to the Beltway Beast’s impulsive, over-reactive behavior.

Over time, drones will have longer range and additional killing power, enabling them to take off from any location and reach any spot in the world.  Might angry Americans such as Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski find ways to hijack drones and, in a worst-case scenario, turn them against their fellow Americans on U.S. soil?  We have embarked on a slippery slope and bought into a policy that has been poorly thought-out.  Al-Qaeda itself could not have imagined that Washington D.C. would be doing its work for them by keeping America in a never-ending state of war and fear while losing our privacy and civil liberties.

Munir Moon
Center for Global Understanding

Thursday, 13 November 2013

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