The Drone War on Westphalia

will they be launched against us? (U.S. Navy photo by Cryptologic Technician 1st Class Carl T. Jacobson/Released)

I wrote a snippy post yesterday attacking Benjamin Wittes’ claim that we’ve had a public debate about drones. But I wanted to do a more substantive post about something missing from the drone debate.

I believe that drones are a tool that presents a heightened threat to the concept of sovereignty, for better or worse. (Note, this is a really rough post, so I welcome historical and legal corrections. But hey, it’s Independence Day, so why not launch a half-baked meditation on our loss of sovereignty?)

Drones change the relationship between the state and war

If you think about it, the system of sovereignty established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 has been under increasing threat since World War II, a moment that brought many repressed peoples of the world closer to exercising their own sovereignty. While sovereignty never fully existed in practice, as we began to institute rules to enforce a more humane coexistence among sovereign nations, a number of forces starting chipping away at the concept of sovereignty. The chief threat to sovereignty is globalization–a force the US encouraged as a means to exercise global hegemony, but also one that (for example) makes it increasingly difficult for the US to fund its coffers or sustain the quality of life of its people. Terrorism as incarnated by al Qaeda did no more than capitalize on the globalized system the US championed; it used the same tools US-based multinationals exploit to maximize profit to strike at a much more powerful foe. And in response to 9/11, the US has both wittingly and unwittingly catalyzed the decline of sovereignty, both with its counterterrorism approaches and with its current form of capitalism.

Its embrace of drones, I believe, is an important part of that process.

Now, the crux of Wittes’ argument is that any problem with drones would exist with any other kind of weapon–drones are technologically neutral.

Drones are a weapon. Their use raises some novel issues, but in many ways, those issues are more the logical extension of the issues raised by previous weapons technologies than departures from them. Ever since, once upon a primitive time, some neolithic fellow figured out that he would be safer if he threw his spear at the other guy from a distance, rather than running up to him and trying to jab him with it, people have been looking for ways to fight from more stand-off platforms–in other words, trying to assume less risk in going into combat. Guns and arrows are technological efforts to kill accurately from a distance. Air power and artillery are both efforts to deliver explosions to places one doesn’t want to risk sending people. Drones are merely the extension of this logic–a means of protecting one’s people almost absolutely while they fight a nation’s battles. I don’t see that as intrinsically problematic, morally or legally. I see it, rather as consistent with the entire history of the development of weaponry, which one should understand as a technological trend towards greater lethality from positions of ever lessening exposure.

But that takes a very narrow view of weapons themselves, in isolation from the structure of government weapons co-evolve with. A caveman’s spear is the weapon of individuals or clans fighting and feeding themselves, not of nation-states. Air power and artillery, by contrast, at least used to be weapons necessarily tied to a certain tax base and the ability to form armies that comes with that tax base (though the proliferation of such arms are one of the things that now empowers a new war-lordism). Drones, along with increasing reliance on mercenaries, are still tied to some source of revenue; but they’re freed from a social contract between the nation-state and its people. Our elite, working in secret, can choose to target whoever whenever, and those of us forgoing pensions and infrastructure to pay for those drones and mercs, will have no say in the matter.

All of which is a point Spencer made in his excellent response to Wittes.

Ben is correct to note that [a drone] strategy is “technology neutral.” But that observation overlooks the fact that that in this case, the technology drives the strategy. The vast improvement in drone-derived intelligence (with some human intelligence, doubtfully) and weapons capability enabled a huge expansion in the ability to wage war while negating or reducing the constraining public costs to it, like troop deployments, financial drain, or conspicuous logistics trails. (You should see the command boxes that Army enlisted men and contractors sit in to operate these things from Bagram — the essence of modularity.) With that comes a lack of public accounting about the efficacy of the program and the criteria for targeting someone with a drone — and no objections from pesky congressmen.

That’s what I would argue needs to change. There’s an elite debate in your papers and think tanks about what smart people can glean about the drone war. It suffers from a dearth of information — not about how someone is targeted, which is properly classified, but who can be targeted; the specific authority for targeting; and the normative question of where the drone war ought to be waged. That, as Marcy points out, is a deliberate government choice. Factor out any ethical concerns: we can’t even say with confidence that the drone war is succeeding, in any rigorous strategic sense of the term, just that it’s killing a lot of people and unleashing a lot of missiles. July 4 seems as apt a day as any to point out that the public, through its elected representatives, is supposed to determine America’s wars.

Five new ways to erode sovreignty with drones

One thing I think is stunning about our drone war is the degree to which it impacts issues of sovereignty almost everywhere we use it. The one exception is the latest member of our target club, Somalia, given that it is already a failed state (not that that justifies drones strikes.) Consider:

Afghanistan: Of all of our drone wars, Afghanistan is the only one that started with traditional legitimacy (and like Somalia, its state was weak to begin with). Yet we’re at the stage now where drones are a key weapon to defend Hamid Karzai–the “Mayor of Kabul”–in the absence of having a fully functional national army. Increasingly, though, we remain in Afghanistan to protect it as a launching pad for attacks on Pakistan, where the bulk of our real enemies are.

Iraq: While plenty of America’s wars have been dubiously legitimate, Iraq certainly is at the top of that list. We trumped up a case against a sovereign nation-state (one with manufactured legitimacy internally, but no less than many of our allies in the region). In what may be the last traditional nation-state war we fight, we managed to (at least thus far and only barely) avoid breaking the country up into three or more parts and establish another leader with questionable legitimacy. In most of that, drones weren’t key. But I’m betting that they will be going forward as a threat to Nuri al-Maliki that if he doesn’t invite our troops to stay longer, we will feel free to use drones in his country. That’s just a guess, mind you, but the evolution of our drone power (and the influence Iran has in Iraq) surely has a bearing on whether and how Iraq fully reasserts is sovereignty by kicking our troops out.

Pakistan and Yemen: Here’s where the secrecy I discussed yesterday becomes so key. In both Pakistan and Yemen, we are using drones as a way to cooperate with a country’s leadership to make war on–rather than employ police powers on–that country’s own people. Obviously, police power was both untenable in those countries (because there isn’t any in the areas of concern) and strategically unworkable (because both these countries have an ambivalent relationship with the terrorists in their own countries). But the key to this process is secrecy: the utterly laughable fiction that drones were dropping down on these countries but no one had to explain the cooperation behind it. Now, in Pakistan, the example of the Osama bin Laden raid proves this doesn’t have to do exclusively with drone technology. But up until the moment when you launch a raid on a figure like OBL, the drones serve as the most visible–and therefore dangerous, from a legitimacy standpoint–reminder of the lie of the country’s sovereignty. To some degree the drone strikes are just a change in degree from the kind of secret big-footing the US and other neocolonial powers have used for decades, but they are more visible, and they allow the US to exercise a much greater degree of autonomy with regards to the partners in question. And for that reason, I believe, they will take fragile states and exacerbate the legitimacy concerns, making them much more likely to turn into even more dangerous (nuclear-armed, in Pakistan’s case) failed states.

Libya: Libya is the most interesting of all these examples. That’s true, first of all, because it demonstrates Spencer’s point: that the US will use these weapons in defiance of any public costs to doing so (both literally–we’re dumping billions into this campaign at the exact same time we’re cutting trillions in domestic spending, but also figuratively, with Obama’s defiance of the WPR). But one particular potential use of drones (or multinational air strikes, as we tried in our first attempt to decapitate Qaddafi) is to assassinate the leader we still recognize as the legitimate leader of Libya. Now I know we’ve assassinated the legally legitimate leaders of countries in the past. But doing so with such audacity, with so little plausible deniability, seems to mark a new step in our approach to rule of law. And if Qaddafi, in response, sets off a series of terrorist attacks in Europe and the US, we’ll have a lot harder time appealing to the principles of sovereignty we did when al Qaeda attacked us, because we broke those laws first.

In all of these cases, it seems, we risk trading a failed state in pursuit of what the Executive Branch, often in secret, defines as our national interest. It not only risks exacerbating the risk failed states represent around the world–and the further proliferation of terrorism–but as Spencer lays out, the fact that the Executive can do so without balancing the political cost of doing so changes our relationship with our government. (It is no accident, I think, that these changes in strategy are occurring at precisely the same moment both parties are cooperating to dismantle the social safety network.)

Now, for the record, I’m not entirely certain whether chipping away at sovereignty is a good thing–will it allow oppressed people to band together to fight the global elite, or a terrible thing–will it allow weaponized elites to turn average people back into serfs in exchange for the security the nation-state used to offer (though of course I’ve repeatedly suggested we’re headed for the latter condition). But our elected representatives are wittingly and unwittingly pursuing policies that accelerate the process.

So there are two public debates that we’re not having. First, there’s the debate about what standard the Executive needs to use before he assassinates a US citizen with no due process, or what standard the Executive needs to use before he launches new “hostilities” with no congressional mandate. Those are the old-style debates about public accounting that the Executive is using secrecy to try to avoid.

But there’s a larger debate we need to be having. Our system of governance is changing, subtly but increasingly radically, with no discussion. Drones are one symptom and one catalyst of that. And before the consent of the governed is completely eliminated, it’d be nice to have a “public debate” about it.

Again, sorry if this is really rough. But I’ve got to go prepare to celebrate our nation’s own sovereignty by watching a bunch of pyrotechnics paid for by a multinational pyramid scheme.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Update: Thanks to everyone who corrected my very embarrassing (for someone who has studied the Czech lands’ history) typo on Treaty of Westphalia. And for the grammatical fixes.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

98 replies
  1. mattcarmody says:

    Nice post, marcy. I’d add that Somalia is not the only failed state on your list. Afghanistan is nothing more right now than an extended outpost for America’s empire, a place from which to launch attacks against Pakistan and intelligence missions into Iran in furtherance of finding some plausible excuse to attack that country.

    Karzai’s “government” isn’t viable and it isn’t legitimate to the average Afghani who is more beholden to the local tribal leader than to some faraway ruling base, which is exactly the situation Afghanistan has been in since the days when the British sent its army to its demise.

    The problem with drones is their neutrality and the fact that their operators are so removed from the personal costs of war. It’s like Roger Waters and Bill Maher said about pilots, “the bravery of being out of range.” It doesn’t take a hero to drop bombs on people from 10,000 feet or higher in the air, or to lob artillery shells at a target miles away. None of the pilots who fly those missions are going to suffer from PTSD unless they get captured and come face to face with the results of their actions.

    The killing will continue as long as these wars are video game wars, HALO with real-life targets at the other end. There’s something to be said for fighting wars so that the combatants can see each other when they die. It takes something out of you when you actually kill someone and know that it’s your immediate actions that have caused that death. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of 40 years after you’ve left the killing fields, but stuff that should be strong enough to make you want to be sure that your own kids and grandkids don’t ever have to take part in such brutality.

    That’s something that should be imparted by each and every Vietnam combat veteran to those who thank him for his service, that chickenshit phrase that everyone uses to exonerate themselves for their own lack of initiative. Let people know that war is supposed to be hell, not sitting in some box moving a joystick around and randomly ending the lives of figures on a screen.

    It’s that vision of hell that should preclude war altogether.

    • phred says:

      Let people know that war is supposed to be hell, not sitting in some box moving a joystick around and randomly ending the lives of figures on a screen.

      It’s that vision of hell that should preclude war altogether.

      Exactly. Reading the paragraph EW quoted from Wittes, I was struck by his lack of appreciation both of the logical end of his argument and of Star Trek. Over 30 years ago, the original series of Star Trek devoted an episode to the notion of antiseptic war. Mathematicians sat in rooms with their computers, calculating hits, then the people who were hypothetically hit were to dutifully report to little chambers to be killed. The idea was that although people would die, civilization would be unmarred. It was a grotesque perversion of war. And back in the 1960s anyway, we (through our stand-ins on the Enterprise) understood the need for war to be awful as the primary motivating factor to work towards ending it.

      In Wittes “technologically neutral”, which should never be confused with “morally neutral”, world this is the logical conclusion to his argument. Death by remote control, murder at a distance, where those you assassinate have no means of defending themselves. That’s not war, it’s murder.

      And with the shiny new powers of our Almighty President, his ability to order death and destruction wherever and whenever he chooses has no legal restraint.

      What Wittes considers “technologically neutral” is not “morally neutral”, it is supremely immoral. And that ought to receive some attention, along with issues of governance and technological capabilities in our non-existent debate about the escalating global malevolence of the United States.

  2. scribe says:

    A couple things:

    The Treaty of Westphalia was 1648, not 1848.

    I think a better construction would be “While the legitimacy of plenty of America’s wars has been dubious, Iraq certainly is at the top of that list.” instead of “While plenty of America’s wars have been dubiously legitimate, Iraq certainly is at the top of that list.”

    Similarly, when you say “But one particular potential use of drones (or multinational air strikes, as we tried in our first attempt to decapitate Qaddafi) is to assassinate the leader we still recognize as the legitimate leader of Libya.”, you omit Reagan’s raids about this time in 1981 (that, sort of self-defense against a couple Libyan MiGs that challenged a US aircraft carier task force, with the pilots’ famous tagline “Take that, raghead.”) and 1986 (post-Berlin disco bombing, when our planes did manage to kill some of Qaddafi’s kids/grandkids in their beds).

    The ongoing debadle in Libya is the first (that we know of) attempt under Obama to kill Qadaffi. But it’s hardly the first time we’ve thrown bombs at him. He and Libya have long been the rough equivalent of Wake Island post-1942: a place the US fleets used for live-fire target practice at live targets (themselves the subject of a lot of US national pique) that occasionally fire back on their way to other wars, inhabited by the bogeyman-du-jour.

    Wittes formulation that the drones are just a technological extension of a rock is only somewhat accurate: we didn’t go tossing ICBMs or IRBMs at countries or personages which offended our government (and this despite a lot of sentiment after 9/11 for turning Afghanistan into a glass-topped parking lot). Even stipulating the in-utility of nuking offending politicians, one cannot but notice that what drones do is make the boom small enough to make blowing up the offenders an alternative which pols feel they can get away with.

    I think the point is, these drone strikes to try to “eliminate” offending people are both futile and are driven by the same mentality which looks only at the quarterly results of a company, long-term investment be damned. The British used to be really good at using their intelligence services to subtly influence pols and oficials in their colonies and Empire generally, but that was a function of sending someone to live in that country for a career posting, not the one-, two- or at most three-year tour we have our career personnel do. You cannot build a business or, for that matter, neo-colonial control over a country, region or resource belt by spending 3 months learning who the local characters are and scratchingthe surface of how it works, 6 months dealing with yesterday’s leftover problems, 3 months on new problems, and a couple days (at best) briefing your replacement, with a month of home leave thrown in there somewhere. A business given that kind of attention will fail. A neo-colonial enterprise given similar treatment will inevitably devolve to having to kill locals. It will fly out of control as quickly as the locals can find an ammo dump to loot.

    Similarly, policymakers grab for the drone to kill the problem du jour with no concern for tomorrow. At best, that’s because the policymaker figures “Tomorrow is someone else’s problem because I’ll be on to the next, bigger job or cashing out by then.” At worst, it’s the cynicism that knows blowing up one guy today will make three or four of his relatives mad enough to make the kill list, themselves and keeping the killing going means more, longer and bigger contracts for the people who make drones and the missiles they fire.

    We’re at the stage where the price of those contracts is becomng so large that we can’t afford anything else and, in lieu of cutting those contracts, we’re cutting everything else. The short reason for that is that the folks doing the targeting and zapping and the policymakers decideringing these things into happening know, in some corner of their lizard brains, that they’ve decided to ride a tiger (of killing folks for profit, financial, political and otherwise) and that tiger will turn on and eat them if they do anything to stop going down the course of killing the people they’re trying to colonize which they’ve set themselves on.

    So, for example, we get free trade deals which give some measure of money to US corporations in return for financing North Korea’s nuke program. And similar idiocies. We piss off a nuke-armed country with a dubious command and control system over those very nukes, then complain when the relatives of the guys we’ve whacked in the invasions of sovreignity worm their ways into positions where they can wield those nukes against us.

    The breath of hope (America was seen to have regained some level of the sanity which made us relatively liked) which the world felt when Obama came into office (which probably inspired his unearned receipt of the Nobel as much as anything) being dashed by his conduct subsequent thereto – in continuing and expanding the drone war Bush started – is one of the most pernicious things which has happened under his administration, and one of the most long-lasting injuries the US may have suffered in a hundred years or more. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of one thing in the past century which hurt the US more. The world sees that yes, the Americans tortured and drone-bombed under Bush. Then they see the first policy ratified and the second expanded, when sanity required redress and accountability for the first and halting the second. They have no reason to cooperate with the US other than fear, and that fear will engender their developing counters – political, economic and material – to the US.

    We’re on a bad road, and it won’t get better.

  3. PJEvans says:

    Nitpicking of grammar

    Its embrace of drones, I believe, are an important part of that process.

    Subject: embrace. Verb: is.

  4. PJEvans says:

    I suspect there are a lot of people deep in government who are considering using drones in the US, against pesky demonstrators. (That is, people demonstrating against the federal government; against anyone else, maybe not so much.)

    • mattcarmody says:

      Think of it. Colombian nationals working for Xe or DynCoprs operating the drones from outside the US targeting all those Americans who came down to colombia and killed their relatives. And the Posse Comitatus Act? As non-functioning as it is now, it’ll be completely useless when this starts happening.

  5. Frank33 says:

    You should see the command boxes that Army enlisted men and contractors sit in to operate these things from Bagram — the essence of modularity.

    We should and we would, but we are not allowed. We taxpayers do pay for remote control genocide. But we are not as special as Ackerman who has his special but Anonymous sources that he never names (Phil Mudd). And his sources always tell us we are winning and we will continue to win however long it takes.

    Murder by Robots is a war crime. Except the only war crime the US Government believes in, is wearing the wrong uniform. So we should inspect the murderers in their taxpayer financed modular boxes to see if the are wearing the proper uniforms. If not they are war criminals.

    There’s an elite debate in your papers and think tanks about what smart people can glean about the drone war. It suffers from a dearth of information

    But Ackerman has finally noticed that the American people are kept ignorant of neo-con war crimes. The “elite”, another name for war profiteers, in the “think tanks” have an important part in the debate. They echo the Government lies and suppress real debate, because they are part of COINTELPRO.

    And I do disagree with EW. Your Post was not at all snippy. It was very relevant and patriotic. It is the 4th of July and most of the think tank goons are traitors to America.

  6. ffein says:

    Just the idea of drones creeps me out. Is it just a very expensive video game to those that man them? This brought to mind reading, years ago, Philip Slater’s “The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point” and his phrase the “Toilet Assumption (believing that problems can be “flushed away” — out of sight, out of mind). The book was written in 1970, and although much dealt with the Vietnam War, it sure can be applied to our wars today.

    This, from his book:

    “…The Toilet Assumption, however, isn’t enough to account for our love of violence-at-a-distance. Not everyone who has a gun uses it, and not everyone who has an atom bomb drops it. One must explain why the United States has developed more elaborate and grotesque techniques for exterminating people at a distance than any nation in history. Our preference for slaughter from the air certainly has some practical basis in the need to insulate carefully reared soldiers from the horrors they cause, but practical considerations alone hardly account for the fiendishness of the weaponry…”

    • scribe says:

      Well, the guy who invented the neutron bomb (famous for destroying enemy soldiers and people but not the buildings) admitted later in life that he had a real mommy issues and had been hell when being toilet-trained.

      It’s fair to conclude that, among the weapons folks, he was exceptional only in recognizing and admitting his issues.

  7. alinaustex says:

    bmaz
    Way off topic – but I just sent an email to emptywheel with to bmaz in the header
    Its an attachment with a working outline for how to set up returning veterans for success in their very own charter service here in Austin . Did not know how else to get this to you . In an earlier post you said this might be a good idea .
    Thank you for your consideration

    [edited to avoid spam]

  8. emptywheel says:

    I thought it worthwhile to move the comment fatster left in the last post here:

    Pakistan’s Shamsi base : a mystery wrapped in a riddle

    “Washington’s dismissal of the Pakistan government’s stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world’s strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ?”

    LINK.

    • mattcarmody says:

      Would an attack on Shamsi by Pakistani armed forces constitute an attack on an American base enough to start a shooting war? Would the US, as insane as our leaders are, actually go to war with a nuclear power? And if we did, could we expect India to remain neutral with its own arsenal of nukes and animosity towards Pakistan?

      Contained in the article is the thought that since the base was leased to the UAE which turned around and allowed the US to use it, Pakistan may not own the land. Is that the assumption when you lease a Buick? That when u let your friend drive it and use it, the company cedes ownership? I don’t think so.

  9. orionATL says:

    Drones are a war of ten thousand cuts – or overflights.

    When is a drone attack (or attacks) damaging enough to be worth retaliation?

    One flight? Twenty flights? 3/month?

    How many citizens killed – 1, 20, 300? Depends, i suppose, on the value (status).

    Sovereignty in the sense of protecting your nation’s people, land, infrastructurer depends from another nation has always been a matter of either having adequate power or of another’s forbearance.

    Law and treaty, as president g.w. Bush reminded us “is just a goddamned oiece of paper”.

    • RevBev says:

      Thank you for the reminder of the W for wisdom….not to be forgotten. He probably thought that was profound.

  10. orionATL says:

    What has not been discussed is how handy a weapon for terrorists drones will prove

    And what powerful incentives we are giving the peoples of a few nations to develop and use them.

    First on the list? How about mexican “drug lords”, the same guys that developed drug submarines.

    A retaliatory drone, keep in mind, does not have to be very accurate to achieve its purpose.

    • emptywheel says:

      Remember when drones were first used, they were very easy to hack.

      I was thinking about that today when I was wondering if some good might come from transnationalism. In any case I think we’ll have a really nasty war using drones in about 15 years. But it would get all the more interesting if hackers–as skilled at using asymmetric warfare as al Qaeda–learn to control them.

      • emptywheel says:

        Actually strike my claim we’ll have a “war” using drones.

        It’s probably more accurate to say we’ll have increased confrontation between gangs, drug lords, and … the US using drones.

        And civilians will likely be the fodder.

      • orionATL says:

        I did not know drones had been easy to hack.

        To me, easy to hack means relatively crude and hence relatively easy to manufacture and in hiding at that because they are tiny compared to ships, planes, tanks.

        And their manufacture is relatively resource unintensive.

        Efficient fuels and small powerful explosives are essential requirements, but both may exist already.

        What a nightmare future might await us.

        And we have been expending the goodwill we will need as if it were an infinite resource.

        • emptywheel says:

          Here. I believe there were similar instances in Afghanistan.

          Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

          Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

          U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.

          You’ll recall one of the reasons DOD can’t eliminate the use of removable media in the field is bc some weapons systems need them. I’ve always wondered if drones were one of those systems, but don’t know one way or another. You’d think not, but you never know.

  11. wwiii says:

    But there’s a larger debate we need to be having. Our system of governance is changing, subtly but increasingly radically, with no discussion. Drones are one symptom and one catalyst of that. And before the consent of the governed is completely eliminated, it’d be nice to have a “public debate” about it.

    Wonderful post, EW, but I am not sure that drones represent any particular qualitative change in the way our government or foreign policy works or in the way our government views other countries’ sovereignty. I think drones represent more the place evolution of technique has brought us in the last 60+ years. I doubt this country has had any qualms, at least on the Executive level, about interfering with another country’s government in the most drastic ways since Truman unilaterally sent troops into Korea and the CIA found its oats in the 1950’s. Installing the Shah on the throne in Iran, running Arbenz out of Guatemala, financing the Bay of Pigs, directing mercenaries and opposition parties in Laos, underwriting a couple of adventures in Indonesia, bombing Laos and Cambodia, organizing regime change in Chile, etc. Sure hasn’t paid to be a small or ill-equipped third world country since the last World War. They could listen to the US or else. And the CIA had the added advantage of answering only to the president–a lot of their official history is still classified. Moreover, they were relatively inexpensive (compared to sending in the troops) and their budget was off the books, as well. Secrecy has always been a wonderful thing if you are a member of the Executive. Drones appear to me to be just the latest development in our ongoing undeclared war against the rest of the world.

    What I do think has changed dramatically to our system of governance that gets discussed hardly at all except on sites like this one are the structures that have been evolving internally in this country. I take it that that is what you are referring to wrt your references to drones as catalysts. Let’s see: connecting those structures with a hollow economy, corrupt leadership, heavy unemployment, dying infrastructure, resource mismanagement and a complete lack of civic compassion, what could go wrong with our future?

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh, I’m not denying we have toyed with other countries sovereignty with impunity for a century.

      I’m saying this sets up a different relationship between the govt and us–because before military strikes required winning legitimacy enough to sustain a draft or, barring that, at least pay the bills. For a number of reasons, we’re unable to force our govt to pay the bills properly and therefore to make sure we want to pay the bills. But it also sets up a different relationship with the puppet. Take the Shah. We had to ensure he maintained some illusion of legitimacy (which was usually enforced with secret police). We also had to DEAL with the puppet, no matter how troublesome that puppet became (cf. Noriega and Saddam).

      But now we have a way of “cooperating” with a puppet, while still controlling all the force. Because we do, I thikn we make less investment in our puppet’s power (whether that be through secret police or some measure of social contract or–as happens more frequently of late–trade deals to bring jobs).

      So our power hasn’t changed, just the means we used to exercise it. And as history has always shown, the form of governance closely maps the development of new war technologies. I think we’re seeing that now–the whole organizing necessity of a semi-functioning state, both ours and theirs, seems to be being discarded.

  12. bobschacht says:

    EW,
    Thanks for this thoughtful piece to chew on this Independence Day. Your choice of “sovereignty” as the concept to focus on is interesting and highly appropriate.

    First, I would note that this is not the first time that some people’s collective sovereignty is being abused. Sovereignty is a concept that applies primarily to nation-states, and becomes increasingly awkward when forced out of that box. However, the issue is, to some extent, forced by the United NATIONS: You don’t get invited to the club unless you’re a “nation”. And this, however the UN defines “nation,” involves at least one polite fiction: that each “nation” is “sovereign.”

    But this has never been true. In the language of WWII, there have always been “spheres of influence” in which the sovereignty of lesser powers is compromised in order to receive the protection of a greater power. In the mid-20th century, it was really a rather feudal arrangement.

    But that was not the beginning, either. Look at the Age of Colonialism– British, French, Spanish, even the Dutch. The whole shtick was about compromising the sovereignty of other peoples.

    Also, if you look at U.S. Military strategies (and one must), it is instructive to see how they treat the concept of sovereignty. The Pentagon’s New Map (2004), by Thomas Barnett, senior military analyst for the U.S. Naval War College. He argues that The world is divided into a culturally and economically connected Core [i.e., the sovereign nations] and a disconnected “Non-Integrating Gap” [i.e., those whose sovereignty is dubious at best]. And see Barnett for what he proposes to do about this world order.

    But the concept of sovereignty is also being sliced and diced in yet more ways: The biggest and most destructive example is, of course, International Businesses. This was foreseen by Orwell and Huxley. There are many international businesses today that are bigger, in monetary terms and employees, than nation states in the UN General Assembly. Sovereignty is supposed to be the basis of taxation, and yet many international businesses are constructed precisely to avoid this link.

    And let’s not forget the international NGOs (“Non-Governmental Organizations”) such as Doctors Without Borders, International Red Cross, etc., some of which have a larger budget than some of the “nations” in the UN.

    And more organizations that transcend sovereignty, such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the UN itself, the World Court.

    Take a look at Wallerstein’s work on “World-system Theory”

    There are really three kinds of nations in the world. These were defined in economic terms, but there are sovereignty corollaries:
    * Core nations– traditional nations with a history of full sovereignty currently, or at some important time in the group’s collective conscience.
    * Semiperiphery nations– these are nations that have partial sovereignty. in economic terms, these are Industrialized nations that export industrial goods and commodities, but they lack the power and economic dominance of core nations. As a result, they often appear as junior members of international alliances which give them some protection.
    * Periphery “nations”– what some of us would call “Third world.” They have the least “sovereignty” of all.

    Well, I’ve gone on too long, and could go on much longer. But I hope some of this is useful.

    Bob in AZ
    P.S. I’ve lectured on this, and have about three days worth of Powerpoint slides to summarize it. However, I am NOT an expert– just a teacher who had to try to explain Globalization to a bunch of freshmen.

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks–helpful comment. I think I’ve got a similar set of slides.

      I think one of the reasons why the US has been so quick to ditch sovereignty (aside from the fact the multinationals are taking over our govt) is bc formerly peripheral nation-states are kicking our ass with “national” policies, so we’re trying a new strategy to compete better. So it’s not really al Qaeda that made transnational orgs such a threat. It’s an attempt to still invoke sovereignty when it’s convenient while still using all the same tactics as the transnationals.

      • bobschacht says:

        I think I’ve got a similar set of slides.

        Good! I’d love to hear you expound more on globalization issues. I know you’ve already done some of that, e.g. in the wikileaks post, and previously with respect to the international market for cars, but more, please! For example, what’s your take on NAFTA and the pending international trade legislation in Congress?

        Thanks,
        Bob in AZ

  13. orionATL says:

    The use of drones also blurs the distinction between who is and who is not a terrorist.

    This is particularly the case where the cia is concerned because of its history fomenting, supporting, and benefiting from terrorism.

    Drones that routinely kill civilians cannot be considered an immaculate weapon of self-defense;

    however, they can be considered weapons designed to terrorize a population.

    In the world of u.s. state’s secrets I am confident that is just how they are viewed.

    And so we slide toward becoming a nation that employs terrorism to protect itself from terrorism.

    It raises the old question of “who is the prisoner?”- the person behind the barred door or his jailer?

  14. mattcarmody says:

    You know, for some reason I completely ignored the r’ship between Gitmo and Cuba and the analogy with the Shamsi/UAE lease arrangement. Shows you how you can become lazy when hit day by day with this stuff.

  15. Garrett says:

    The Rocket Wars in the Kingdom of Mysore

    The rocket wars in Mysore were between the British East India Company and, well, Mysore.

    The rocket wars happened roughly between 1760 and 1800.

    Tipu Sultan wrote a military manual called Fathul Mujahidin in which 200 rocket men were prescribed to each Mysorean “cushoon” (brigade).

    wiki

    I bring this loosely referential point up, because we get to go out tonight and oo and ah over the futuristic high-tech rocket attack being rained down on us. We are asked, fairly explicitly, to ponder our bravery in standing up to it. We are also asked, less explicitly, to emphasize the rockets over the pieces of paper.

  16. Maddy says:

    Good post.

    I can think of only one response.

    Drones kill people.

    They have no discernment.

    Women, men children.

    Is of no importance.

    The true enemy of man.

    Is himself.

    • Maddy says:

      It really hurts doesn’t it. If we reached across the world and joined hands we could stop it. Unfortunately we have been so divided they can just individually bitch slap us, then laugh at our response.

      That should never stop us from doing what we do.
      As sophomoric as this sounds I will never stop loving
      Peace bra
      Let us celebrate our aliveness today

  17. AitchD says:

    John McCain: “Strategy? I think he means tactics.”

    Drones are very sophisticated media that combine terror with torture. When terrorism and torture no longer exist, drones will be outlawed and abolished. Probably in 8461 I’m guessing.

  18. JimHarrison says:

    Two points:

    1. Westphalia didn’t usher in an age of respect for the sovereignty of nation states. Only states of comparable power dealt with each other as equals. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the great powers routinely interfered in the internal affairs of weaker states–a series of wars grew out of meddling in the Balkans long before the fall of Yugoslavia. It’s like what happens in domestic law: contracts with weak unions or Indian tribes don’t have to be honored.

    2. Military technology does change the rules, but drone weapons merely continue a trend that goes back several decades. In the era of mass armies, states had a far greater need to appease their populations than they do now that conscript armies would simply be slaughtered by high tech weapons and no state is wealthy enough to arm World War II-size forces with advanced equipment or train them adequately. Democracy, whether in authoritarian or republican form, is probably obsolete now that elites have every reason to prefer professional forces backed up with modern methods of public relations and technological terror weapons. Of course, it may be that populations will find ways new ways to assert themselves as in the Arab spring. On the other hand, as folks who read a lot of history will understand, 1848 was followed by 1849 so I’m awaiting developments.

    • emptywheel says:

      This is the crux of it, isn’t it?

      Democracy, whether in authoritarian or republican form, is probably obsolete now that elites have every reason to prefer professional forces backed up with modern methods of public relations and technological terror weapons.

      And yes, you’re right, I was simplifying about power.

    • bobschacht says:

      Thanks for your interesting comments on Westphalia and European history. However, I take offense at the following statement:

      It’s like what happens in domestic law: contracts with weak unions or Indian tribes don’t have to be honored.

      Do you mean “Don’t have to be honored…”
      * because tribes are too weak to fight back, or
      * because Treaties with Indian Nations have no legal standing, or
      * the American system of justice routinely ignores the rights of minorities, well, because it can, or
      * Americans don’t give a damn about their moral obligations under the law?

      The Cobell Settlement, signed by President Obama, offers some hope, at least, that your offensive statement, while often true in practice, is neither moral nor just.

      Bob in AZ

      • JimHarrison says:

        I also take offense that governments don’t feel obligated to honor contracts with weak parties. I would have assumed that you would have understood where I’m coming from, but I guess not.

  19. Starbuck says:

    Drones are simply unmanned aircraft, pressed in the service of warfare. They do no different than the fighters of WWI, which evolved into fighters and bombers of WWII and beyond, but which no longer involves human guidance which puts them in harms way.

    The closest to guided attack vehicles which resembles the goal of a drone was the Kamikaze squadrons of Japan in WWII. Remember, these planes were not equipped with landing gear, and possessed only enough fuel to get to the target with enough left over to enhance the ordnance with which the planes were equipped. Basically, drones eyes on the target with no expectation of vehicle recovery, but the flier lives to fight another day.

    The huge advantage is that it relieves a commander of the consequences of ordering an attack with which he knows beyond a doubt will cause injuries and death to his troops. That emboldens their use, for there is reduced hesitation in ordering that attack, that is, concern for the lives on the other side, combatants or otherwise.

    Marcy’s perspective is an important one but I believe it applies to all weapons of warfare used today, where face to face combat is greatly reduced, perhaps ultimately eliminated.

    It takes no stretch of the brain to come to the final conclusion: War solves nothing.

    • Frank33 says:

      The closest to guided attack vehicles which resembles the goal of a drone was the Kamikaze squadrons of Japan in WWII.

      You are wrong. Actually, during WWII, the Germans had radio controlled guided missiles.

      The German V1, pulse engine and V2 Rocket were specifically meant to be “terror weapons”. The Robot Drones are also terror weapons so perhaps we should call them V3’s.

      The Kamikazis were a devastating weapon used late in the war. It was a desperation tactic by the Japanese when it was obvious they had lost the war. Many US ships were sunk by Kamikazis. But many US ships received multiple strikes by Kamikazis and were not sunk.

      The USS Laffey was hit by seven Kamikazis and was not sunk and in fact continued to fight. Most Kamikazis were shot down by the brave sailors and pilots of the US Navy

      • Starbuck says:

        Sorry. Those, like ICBM’s are not the same.

        It’s eyes on the target(resembles the goal of a drone) to which I refer. No V2 sent back a picture of the approach and kill.

        And yes, I am quite familiar with the ensuing battles and their efforts to destroy the planes before they hit. It was them or us at that point, and resembles face to face combat a bit.

        • Frank33 says:

          The Robot Drones, are similar to the V1 and V2 because these are targeting civilians. The CIA or Blackwater, whoever controls these evil things, seem to especially enjoy murdering women and children.

          The neo-cons need more enemies to keep the Phony War On Terror profitable. So we have video? Then let us see those videos. We should know who does the targeting and why. What percent actually kills terrorists. How many enemies are made by ruthless murder of innocent people.

          for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.

          A weapon that kills mostly innocent people, is a terrorist weapon. And a “militant” to the warmongers, is anyone who defends their country against a foreign invader.

          Why is all this secret? Because your wars are ALL lies.

          • Starbuck says:

            V2’s are/were a terrorist weapon. So was Fat Man and Little Boy. Dresden firebombing. Strafing of civilian trains by the Brits and Americans in Europe.

            Shall I go on?

            “Because your wars are ALL lies”

            All wars derive from lies. There are good sides and bad sides, and the winner gets to decide which is which.

            • Frank33 says:

              Neo-con 101. Kill them all and let God sort them out. You equate WWII with the Bushie/Obama phony wars. I bet you are making a killing from war profiteering.

              But I want my tax money back because these wars are a criminal fraud. I cannot afford to support you fat greedy pigs.

  20. burnsbabe says:

    I actually wrote a blog post that was a similar kneejerk reaction recently. It’s not as heavy on history (and you certainly have brought your facts to bare). But I think the central issue is that unmanned drones make us more willing to wage war. Here it is. Do what you will.

    http://www.42liberal.zubon.org

  21. holeybuybull says:

    It took the MIC some time to bring the weaponry of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” on line. They’ve actually adopted a method of waging war that is even more impersonal and despicable than dropping bombs from airplanes.

    • Starbuck says:

      The people controlling the craft witness the explosion and see the individual target with much greater clarity than a bombardier on a B-29. Nonetheless, they are quite isolated, and used to viewing under essentially the same conditions as the games on which they were trained, or should I say, desensitized?

  22. radiofreewill says:

    Great article and comments!

    The rise of technology – concurrently with the decline in the character of the people using it – is unstable – like carrying a tray full of nitro bottles to your seat in the Big House during the OSU game.

    Without the intervention of visionary and virtuous leadership, it’s only a question of time before it all comes crashing down…

    • Garrett says:

      I consider it to be a Law of Warfare, that as the technological accuracy and range and power of weapons increases, the proportion of civilians killed always increases too.

      The theory starts with that “Originally, there were rocks” style disquisition. Which is kind of embarrassing.

      Good figures are impossible to come by, but consider it one civilian per nine soldiers killed in the Civil War, pivoting at one to one in World War II, and an astonishing number of civilians killed, per soldier, in Iraq.

      As a corollary: the military, at every new introduction of a technology that will naturally and inevitably kill a greater proportion of civilians, will claim that it naturally and inevitably kills fewer. See: Drones.

      • radiofreewill says:

        I see what you’re saying – as the most ‘modern’ instrument of weaponry, Drones are the AAA-rated sub-prime mortgages of War.

  23. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Drones are insidious. They appear to be pilotless, clean, inexpensive, unobtrusive, unstoppable, and deadly, but in that false medical analogy called a “surgical” strike. They are an imperial politicians perfect weapon.

    Drones do have pilots, but they are banal technocrats sitting in air conditioned, low G offices far away from the field of battle, from the smells of fuel, weapons, fear, and sweat. In fact, their use involves hundreds of people: their designers, manufacturers and shippers; their handlers, fuelers and armorers; the men and machines of war that deliver them near to the field of battle; their pilots, spotters, intel geeks and supervisors.

    Most of all, they involve the direct action of senior military and political figures who dictate their use, giving them sometimes a literal bird’s eye view, a virtual thrill without the heat or risks of battle, but with the ability to inflict death as readily as any armored knight running down a peasant outside a burgh in the Rhineland.

    Drones are expensive. Their metal, engines, software, weapons, fuel are expensive. Delivering them to the battlefield involves ships or aircraft, service personnel, intel, computer support, ad nauseum. Their costs in men and materiel are hidden in black budgets and large line items.

    Drones are unstoppable in the way that a 19th century regiment of soldiers with Lee Enfield breech loading rifles seemed unstoppable to Fuzzy Wuzzies and Afghan tribesmen. That is, they are most effective in imperial wars against technologically inferior opponents in places that time and commerce seem to have forgotten. That technology and political mismatch allows them to be used regardless of the political will of local politicians and societies.

    Drones deliver death as sudden, hot and permanent as a blade, a large caliber weapon, a chemical explosive. Their weapons are only as good as the intel used to direct them. The irony that they are used in lieu of human intel, in the places we know least, is lost only on the political forces that set them in motion.

  24. Starbuck says:

    Frank33, do yourself a favor and read this.

    Concerning what I do, you would lose your bet. The drones (some types anyway) are designed and fabricated about 50 miles from where I live, and I do have qualifications to work for them. I would rather starve than do so.

  25. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Drones are “technologically neutral” is an argument of distraction. It is an excuse, an attempted license, for what they do.

    Drones are politically popular because they seem so virtual, so limited (for those back home), because they generate such whopping defense expenditures. They are like miniature aircraft carriers that allow the projection of American military power across the globe, seemingly without consequence.

    Perhaps they would be less popular if each time they flew, the politician, general and administrator who authorized their use were given an injection of adrenaline, endured an ear-piercing wail, and wore a bucket of mud and blood for half a day. Drones make war painless for those who send them, and ever present for those beneath them. They are as much instruments of terror every bit as much as they are instruments of intelligence or deliverers of weapons.

    • Starbuck says:

      So what is a legitimate license for war?

      Sometimes I think we revel in the glories of war. Let me tell a story:

      I worked once, years ago with a fellow who migrated to the US after WWII. He was a radioman in the Luftwaffe. One day, he started telling me about the glories and workmanship of the Me109’s and the FW 190’s. Polished brass escutcheons around the instruments. Instrument panels of mahogany and walnut. In short, elegant airplanes to fly for the glory of Der Fuhrer. Then he became pensive. I asked G: Why? He said “I’ll never forget my first view of a downed P-47. It was all gray, all over. I thought to my self ‘Oh my God! These people mean business!'”

  26. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As Spencer points out, transferring the drone war from the CIA to the DoD would at least put their use in the hands of the uniformed services. Every time a civilian contractor or USG employee kills a so-called insurgent in a faraway land, we create a war criminal whose behavior we have to hide and excuse, which further damages our ability to return to a rule of law.

    True, that would make it harder to implement drone coverage in the US, but I’m sure our constitutional lawyer president will find a way to excuse using the military for everyday domestic law enforcement and intel purposes in the US. He’s getting a lot of practice at it.

  27. MadDog says:

    A great post EW!

    I was taken by surprise by your insight regarding the disappearance of sovereignty and some of the consequences thereof.

    Your post still led me back to the “ease of usage” issue I remarked on back in April on this topic.

    Partially as a result of our loss in the Vietnam War, the US government, and in particular, the military and its chain of civilian command including the Commander in Chief, decided that they would no longer use “body count” as a means of conveying war success to the US civilian population.

    This no “body count” philosophy thoroughly permeated the leadership of the US Armed Forces to the extent that it was understood to be taboo to use it as a “success gauge” in our wars since Vietnam.

    There are two things about “body count” that I must state to provide clarity:

    1. The no “body count” rule by the US Armed Forces is in regard to war information for US (and the entire world for that matter) public consumption. The US Armed Forces still use “body count” in their own internal reporting. It’s just not used for US Armed Forces public pronouncments.

    2. By “body count”, I mean purely “enemy” body count.

    Which brings me back full circle to my original “ease of usage” comment:

    While the US government no longer uses “enemy body count” in its PR pronouncements and indeed, its own measurement as a quantification gauge of the success of its wars, the opposite is not true.

    The “opposite is not true” you say? What does that mean?

    I mean that the US government has, and will continue to use, the opposite measure to gauge of the success of its wars. The “reverse body count” measurement!

    The “reverse body count” is a count of US casualties, and not only has this count not disappeared from the US war lexicon, one might easily come to the conclusion that the “reverse body count” of US casualties is in fact the central driver of not only US foreign and war policy, but the driving force behind our military technology, weaponry, and war-fighting schemes and philosophies.

    Which itself brings this observation to EW’s post on our drone wars that I find interesting – namely that the lack of a public debate on our drone wars is not a bug, but rather a feature!

    If a low “reverse body count” of US casualties is the central driving force underpinning both our military capabilities as well as our foreign and war policy, then today’s US “war-by-drone” is its current pre-eminent manifestation.

    By design, today’s US “war-by-drone” is meant to ensure that public debate is not a factor by positing that “if we ourselves are not killed”, what’s to object in the use of our technology?

    This is of course short-sighted sleight of hand, but by design, it is meant to show no “reverse body count” of US casualties and therefore, no apparent or perceived US cost.

    In other words, the penultimate marriage of design and marketing: “It does exactly what we want (kill enemies) and apparently doesn’t cost us anything (no US casualties)!”

      • MadDog says:

        There is a reason that folks head to Rancho Emptywheel and it ain’t just the magnificient meals or the superb service. *g*

    • PJEvans says:

      It would probably work better if we didn’t see death notices (in the newspapers, on TV, wherever) every day for people serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    • emptywheel says:

      Excellent point. I remember there was a study Bush had done by two Duke profs (I believe at least one has moved on) about how long support for war can last. That was pre-drone era, though. I’m wondering what they would say now.

    • wigwam says:

      Budy count sucks as a measure of military accomplishment.

      Per Churchill: “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver the less he demands in slaughter.”

      In Vietnam, the Communist forces celebrated any action in which they lost fewer than twenty times our losses. They knew that the American public would not tolerate even a tenth of the losses they could sustain.

      The other thing is that most body count statistics are lies. People on the ground want the people up the line to credit them for doing a good job, and they know that the people up the line have no way to check the accuracy of the data they report.

      And most intelligent commanders know all of this. The problem in Vietnam was that the Secretary of Defense, McNamara, had been the comptroller at Ford. He was a numbers-guy and something of a genius and remembering numbers, processing them in his mind, and terrorizing his subordinates with them. I completely blame McNamara for the body-count fetish in Vietnam.

  28. skepticdog says:

    If a country can make war against others with near immunity, it’s not long before they realize they can do it against their own citizens.

  29. waynec says:

    From the introduction…”You should see the command boxes that Army enlisted men and contractors sit in to operate these things from Bagram — the essence of modularity.”

    “Consider ODIN-A, as the task force is known here, another example of the U.S. military’s gamble in Afghanistan: That it can wage a successful counterinsurgency while deemphasizing the killing of insurgents.”

    When I first read this link, I thought it said “dehumanizing” instead of deemphasizing.

    Maybe it should have.

  30. wigwam says:

    So, ask yourself, “What would be the ultimate weapon of empire?” Say, a device by which the overlords could, with a few key strokes, make any given individual burst into flames, wherever they might be? Say, a mechanical hummingbird that could fly in through any open window and explode in the face of any selected person? Say, a virus that is highly contagious but absolutely benign except for one person for whose DNA it is set to be lethal?

    What these dream weapons have in common is that they are very personal and selective with no collateral damage. They don’t count on firepower for their effectiveness. Their effect is not a matter of probability. They are up-close and personal. They are our military’s goal, and the drone is the closest we’ve gotten to these dream weapons. At their best, drones blow up a particular car or tank or room of a house. It’ll kill everyone else in that room or vehicle along with the target — regrettable collateral damage. But the F16s didn’t take our a whole section town getting him. Nor were any American lives risked/lost. At least that’s how it works in theory. Sigh!

  31. spanishinquisition says:

    I think that it is more lawyers who are changing things than the technology itself. The invention of drones isn’t causing us to be in Libya and calling it a non-war, but rather that is what the lawyers have done. I believe if drones were recognized as a weapon of war that we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Long-range weapons have been around for a long time, but it is only recently that war isn’t being called war. Any long-range weapon can now be considered a non-war weapon and that is the dangerous part and it applies to more than just drones. The biggest threat is executive branch lawyers who avoid checks-and-balances, not specific weapons.

  32. phred says:

    There is one other point I’ve been thinking about since I posted my earlier comment and that is sovereignty isn’t just a how a head of state or government might view itself or how countries interact with each other, it also describes the relationship of citizens to their state.

    A few commenters in this thread have made analogies to technologies used in prior wars, specifically WWII. I think the analogy is inapt. Although civilians were certainly targeted by all manner of destructive technology, they nonetheless belonged to a nation-state that was an active participant in the conflict. That is, their country was fighting to defend them, whether or not successfully. So the civilian tries to stay out of harm’s way, but isn’t necessarily motivated to take matters into their own hands, since their state is actively engaged in the conflict.

    Here, the use of drones against civilians in non-combatant states (whether failed or otherwise) seems to me to be a perfect recruiting tool for terrorism, since the state either cannot or will not act to defend its citizens against the offensive state. If a person is being attacked, but their country does nothing to fight back on their behalf, what other recourse do they have?

    This is the fundamental error in treating terrorists as a peculiar form of army, instead of as criminals requiring a suitable response by police and traditional criminal justice. It creates highly asymmetrical warfare that cannot help but breed more terrorism, by its very nature.

    Further, the use of such asymmetrical warfare can break down the internal governance structures of the country under attack. Clearly, this could lead to unpredictable outcomes that could do far more harm to the attacking country, than whatever problem they were trying to address in the first place.

    • Starbuck says:

      More like evolution than analogies, phred. Obviously, unique characteristics of weapons systems breed unique uses, such as the asymmetrical warfare mentioned.

      It still comes down to an essential truth:

      War is not the answer.

      • phred says:

        You missed my point. War, requires two (or more) active state combatants. Drones as they are being used in countries we are not at war with are tools of murder. Outside societal structures where one’s country fights back when under attack (as in war, whether or not the response is successful) or where crimes such as murder are investigated and prosecuted, a civilian harmed (whether by personal physical injury, loss of home or livelihood, or as a survivor where loved ones are killed) has no avenue for redress.

        In short, drones are not just tools of war, but also of murder. I guess we’re all warlords now, eh?

        Perhaps to rephrase your point: Killing is not the answer.

        • Starbuck says:

          Drones as they are being used in countries we are not at war with are tools of murder.

          Without doubt, but then, high powered rifle with advanced sighting mechanisms also fall in that category, as do tools of the black art of traceless killing.

          Again, I am speaking basically from the point of view of the evolution of tools of war. I do not condone the use of drones in the manner employed, that is, without a state of war declared between the two states. But I also do not condone that either!

          To rephrase a hoary old adage: Weapons don’t kill people. People kill people.

          The sum total of what I am trying to say is that the point of this discussion is shining the light in the wrong direction. It’s like two people arguing over the morality of killing by arguing about the caliber of the pistol, having decided that using a pistol is not immoral.

    • Nell says:

      Thanks, phred, for the most insightful comment on this thread, already rich in excellent commentary.

  33. radiofreewill says:

    Unregulated Wall Street destroying our Homes and Savings – Greed

    Lawless Drones heartlessly killing Innocent Civilians – Hatred

    American Exceptionalism makes US the world’s Authoritarian Daddy – Delusion

    The Predator that’s loose on everyone in this civilized world is unprincipled, xenophobic, pre-emptively judgmental, Neo-con Ideology.

  34. rkilowatt says:

    “…in which the sovereignty of lesser powers is compromised in order to receive the protection of a greater power…”

    Golly, ya mean like the list of English Commonwealth Countries? Them Englanders is world-class, expert clever-strokers.

  35. rkilowatt says:

    Thanks to GPS, etc tech, drones easily morphed into effective assassination decices. remote-controlled from any location precisely “to cause effects at a distance“.

    Beam weapons to follow shortly.

  36. phred says:

    (Edited to note that this is a reply to Starbuck at 86)

    I seem to be failing to make myself clear.

    In any case, I could not disagree with your last paragraph more. I agree with EW that “this discussion” (perhaps our disagreement lies in how we define “this”) is vitally important.

    And since, in my two principal comments you keep overlooking my clearly stated view, I’ll reiterate: using drones is immoral, illegal, and counterproductive.

    • Starbuck says:

      I will agree with your clearly stated view and append with this:

      …when a state of war does not exist between states.

      Beyond that, the entire concept of war takes precedence.

      Nowhere id I say this discussion should not take place. I agree with notion of discussion, especially when MW takes the “mike” so to speak. Her posts are carefully considered, well documented with links, and are some of the best in the business to date. It is vitally important, and my response is one that takes it seriously. But I refuse to be distracted in my deliberations as to the content and where I think it ought to go. Being criticized on that basis can be viewed to an attempt to shut down dissension, and yes, dissension even here is sacred.

      IMO, anyway.

  37. harpie says:

    From Mary Ellen O’Connell’s April 28, 2010 testimony [pdf] before the House Subcommittee on National Security And Foreign Affairs:

    Combat drones are battlefield weapons. They fire missiles or drop bombs capable of inflicting very serious damage. Drones are not lawful for use outside combat zones. Outside such zones, police are the proper law enforcement agents and police are generally required to warn before using lethal force. Restricting drones to the battlefield is the most important single rule governing their use. Yet, the United States is failing to follow it more often than not. At the very time we are trying to win hearts and minds to respect the rule of law, we are ourselves failing to respect a very basic rule: remote weapons systems belong on the battlefield. [emphasis added]

    About Mary Ellen O’Connell [Editor’s note from an article she wrote on 4/29/11 for CNN]

    Editor’s note: Mary Ellen O’Connell holds the Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law and is research professor of international dispute resolution at the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is a specialist on the international law of armed conflict and is the author of “The Power and Purpose of International Law” (Oxford University Press, 2008). She has been a professional military educator for the U.S. Department of Defense, chaired the Use of Force Committee of the International Law Association (2005-2010) and is a vice president of the American Society of International Law.

  38. dylanh says:

    I don’t get it. A liberal arguing for the inviolability of sovereignty? Let’s not conflate the problems of drone warfare with the benefits of a hard-lined definition of sovereignty.

      • dylanh says:

        I just find it strange. It is not usually the social liberals who advocate for a realist worldview. The kind of people who promote human rights are not usually the kind of people who promote the right of states to do whatever they please with their subjects.

        There might be many problems with drone warfare. It might be indefensible. But you’re conflating those problems with the benefits of hard-lined sovereignty. You are predicating your arguments against drone warfare on the assumption that state sovereignty is inviolable. That is not a liberal assumption. Indeed, decades of activism has been trying to push states away from a notion of state sovereignty that allows massive and systemic human rights violations to occur without consequence.

    • emptywheel says:

      Actually, I’m not arguing for that (note in the post where I say I don’t know whether it’s good or bad?). It’ll have some benefits. It might empower the weak. But it will also lead to a great deal of instability internationally in the short term.

      • dylanh says:

        I don’t think your post is as on-the-fence as you claim it to be. You sound like you know where you sit, from here.

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