Is “National Security” a Good Excuse to Pursue Policies that Undermine the Nation-State?

Here I was steeling myself for a big rebuttal from Benjamin Wittes to my “Drone War on Westphalia” post on the implications of our use of drones. But all I got was a difference in emphasis.

In his response, Wittes generally agrees that our use of drones has implications for sovereignty. But he goes further–arguing it has implications for governance–and focuses particularly on the way technology–rather than the increasing importance of transnational entities I focused on–can undermine the nation-state by empowering non-state actors.

I agree emphatically with Wheeler’s focus on sovereignty here–although for reasons somewhat different from the ones she offers. Indeed, I think Wheeler doesn’t go quite far enough. For it isn’t just sovereignty at issue in the long run, it is governance itself. Robotics are one of several technological platforms that we can expect to  greatly enhance the power of individuals and small groups relative to states. The more advanced of these technological areas are networked computers and biotechnology, but robotics is not all that far behind–a point Ken Anderson alludes to at a post over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Right now, the United States is using robotics, as Wheeler points out, in situations that raises issues for other countries’ sovereignty and governance and has a dominant technological advantage in the field. But that’s not going to continue. Eventually, other countries–and other groups, and other individuals–will use robotics in a fashion that has implications for American sovereignty, and, more generally, for the ability of governments in general to protect security. [my emphasis]

Given DOD’s complete inability to protect our computer toys from intrusion, I’ll wager that time will come sooner rather than later. Iraqi insurgents already figured out how to compromise our drones once using off-the-shelf software.

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.

It may not take long, then, for a country like Iran or an entity like a Mexican drug cartel to develop and disseminate a way to hack drones. And given the way other arms proliferate, it won’t be long before drones are available on the private market. (Incidentally, remember how some of the crap intelligence used to trump up a war against Saddam involved a balsa-wood drone? Great times those were!)

So Wittes and I are in pretty close agreement here; he even agrees that the larger issue “ought to be the subject of wider and more serious public debate.”

But shouldn’t it be, then, part of the question whether facilitating this process serves national security or not?

In the interest of fostering some disagreement here–er, um, in an interest in furthering this discussion–I wanted to unpack the thought process in this passage from Wittes’ response to Spencer with what appears to be Wittes’ and my agreement in mind:

The point with merit is the idea that drones enable the waging of war without many of the attendant public costs–including the sort of public accounting that necessarily happens when you deploy large numbers of troops. I have no argument with him on this score, save that he seems to be looking at only one side of a coin that, in fact, has two sides. Ackerman sees that drones make it easy to get involved in wars. But he ignores the fact that for exactly the same reason, they make it easier to limit involvement in wars. How one feels about drones is partly conditioned by what one believes the null hypothesis to be. If one imagines that absent drones, our involvement in certain countries where we now use them would look more like law enforcement operations, one will tend to feel differently, I suspect, that if one thinks our involvement would look more like what happened in Iraq. Drones enable an ongoing, serious, military and intelligence involvement in countries without significant troop commitments.

As I read it, the logic of the passage goes like this:

  1. Drones minimize the costs of involvement in wars
  2. We will either be involved in these countries in a war or a law enforcement fashion
  3. Therefore, we’re better off using drones than large scale military operations

Now, before I get to the implications of this logic, let me point out a few things.

First, note how Wittes uses “what happened in Iraq” as the alternative kind of military deployment? As I said in my last post in this debate, I do think Iraq may end up being what we consider our last traditional nation-state war for some time, so I suppose it’s a fair invocation of an alternative. But Iraq was also characterized, for years, by willfully insufficient planning, and it was an illegal war of choice in any case. If the only option is military intervention, why not compare drones with a more effectively-run more legitimate war, like the first Gulf War? Or why not admit the possibility of what we’ve got in Afghanistan, another incompetently executed war (largely because Bush moved onto Iraq before finishing Afghanistan) which now seems almost to serve as an incredibly expensive excuse to keep drones in the neighborhood.

Also, note the things Wittes doesn’t consider among the possibilities here, such as diplomacy or non-involvement. We’re not using drones (not yet, anyway) against Syria, Bahrain, or Ivory Coast, all of which share some similarities with Libya. So why–aside from the oil–should we assume we have to get involved in any case? Shouldn’t we first consider using tools that don’t create more failed states?

And even if we’re going to be involved militarily, there’s the additional choice of using just special forces, which has the same kind of small footprint and low cost, but–up until the point you use them to kill Osama bin Laden–slightly different legal and strategic implications than drones (though ultimately someone is going to capture members of our special forces and treat them as unlawful enemy combatants).

Mind you, I’m not saying these alternative tools necessarily are the ones we should be using, but we ought to remember the choice isn’t as simple as war versus law enforcement.

That said, Wittes is coming to this–and to the larger question of counterterrorism–from a perspective supporting significant (though not complete) use of a war framework. For those who do, doesn’t that make the logic I laid out above–added to the seeming agreement that drones are one new development undermining the nation-state–look something like this (the additions are in bold)?

  1. Drones minimize the costs of involvement in wars but undermine nation-states
  2. We will either be involved in these countries in a war or a law enforcement fashion
  3. Given that binary choice, we favor a military involvement in these countries
  4. Therefore, we’re better off using drones than large scale military operations
  5. A consequence of that choice will be popularizing a technology that will undermine nation-states, including our own

Admittedly, I may be pushing the logic here, as well as the extent to which Wittes and I agree about the implications of drones. Nevertheless, this logic summarizes the reason we need more debate here–partly because we’re using tools without consent, partly because we’re not considering potential unintended consequences–particularly in the form of more failed states–of our choices. But also because, in the name of “national security,” we seem to be pursuing policies that will weaken our own nation-state. (Compare this with cyberwar, where, after we ratcheted up the strategy with Stuxnet, we are at least now–perhaps cynically–trying to establish an international regime to cover the new strategy.)

Now consider what’s happening at the same time, in the absence of a real debate about whether we need to launch drones against another country. We had 159 and 238 Americans die in tornadoes this year that were almost certainly an early example of the kinds of severe natural disasters we can expect from climate change; but we’re doing nothing as a country to prepare for more such events (including the historical flooding and its significant economic cost), much less to try to prevent climate change. We continue to let multinational banks guide our national policy choices, in spite of warnings that such an approach will bring about another crash. And no matter how relatively inexpensive drones are, we are spending billions on them, even while we’re firing the teachers that should be educating our next generation of engineers–eating our national security seed corn, if you will–because of budget woes.

In short, in a push to address one diminishing threat using the least costly military means, we may be hurting the viability of our nation-state. We’re fighting a transnational threat by empowering transnational threats. Meanwhile, the US is betraying its responsibility to provide its citizens security in the face of a number of much more urgent threats.

If the state is crumbling–and ours seems to be, literally, politically, and legally–then what becomes of the responsibility for national security? And how do you define the nation that national security must serve?

Update: Balsa for balsam fixed per Synoia.

64 replies
      • rewelch says:

        This “Given DOD’s complete inability to protect our computer toys from intrusion” certainly reminds me of Ackerman. To actually believe “computer toys” can be protected is sufficient to discredit any meaningful debate on your part. Such lack of insight reflects a fundamental flaw in your understanding of technology.

        Operationally no hacking is necessary; just track and alarm when targeted. Much more efficient to rely on physics than on technology.

        Wired is not science reporting just a science-related tabloid blog. Very disappointing to see all that Wired non-sense has found its way into FDL.


        • bmaz says:

          Hmmm, such antagonistic, yet blithely simplistic and illusory, statements as “just track and alarm when targeted” and “more efficient to rely on physics than on technology” do about zero to argue, much less discredit, anything. Do you have something to offer other than such glittering generalities?

    • thatvisionthing says:

      Wheelerman = Wheeler + Ackerman?

      My Reply To Empty Wheelerman I

      by Benjamin Wittes

      I promised yesterday that I would collect and post my thoughts in response to Spencer Ackerman’s and Marcy Wheeler’s comments on drones and debates.

  1. thatvisionthing says:

    I am seriously going to try to read and grok the whole debate, but how can I take this guy seriously? I’m already seeing red and I’m only at the third paragraph of Wheelerman I:

    So I think we can relatively simply put what Ackerman calls the semantic disagreement to rest. We all agree that there has been a public debate over drones.

    This is my brain on Tabasco sauce.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      whiplash, the next two sentences

      Whether one finds that debate nonetheless satisfying for intellectual purposes and, as Wheeler rightly notes, for purposes of life in a democratic society, is a definitional question. I am apparently more satisfied with it then they are, though I share in a limited way some of their frustrations with how the government’s refusal to engage the debate has injured it.

      ! dumbfounded – a public drone debate that the government refuses to engage is satisfying…enough?

  2. PJEvans says:

    I don’t know what Wittes is smoking, but it’s either so good that he hasn’t noticed that he isn’t writing about the real world, or so bad he shouldn’t be writing at all.

    • bmaz says:

      Say what you will, I have found Wittes to be a person that engages in good faith and honest argument. I think he is living quite in the real world, he simply has a different vision of it and that is what makes this kind of discussion and debate valuable.

      • MadDog says:

        I too find he engages in good faith, but I often find his wearing of the “war is the solution not the problem” blinders limits his observations.

        • bmaz says:

          I am not sure that is exactly Ben’s outlook, but, yes, I understand what you are getting at and agree. I might phrase it, probably not quite perfectly accurately, as he views war far more within the “politics by other means” paradigm than we do. I understand that view, though don’t necessarily ascribe to it.

      • Garrett says:

        Coming from a somewhat different direction:

        I’ve gotten a lot of assist in understanding Barack Obama’s (or the Administration’s) theory of military detention, directly from the site, and with Benjamin Wittes posts definitely being a part of it.

        I wish they had commenting there, so questions could be asked. But I can also see why they wouldn’t.

  3. MadDog says:

    Our policies and practices with regard to Pakistan are additional on point examples of your argument.

    There are of course many cooks who are responsible for the current Pakistani stew. Both internal (rampant MOTU corruption, the ever-recurring military and ISI dictatorships, etc.) and external like the Saudis and their decades-long inculcation of Wahabbism and Jihadis.

    The US has also been for decades one of the prime factors that has pressure-cooked the Pakistani state to the point of failure.

    Pew Research polls in both 2010, and now in 2011 after the US raid that killed OBL, have consistently shown that Pakistanis have a negative view of US foreign and terrorist policies in regard to Pakistan:


    …Roughly six-in-ten (59%) Pakistanis describe the U.S. as an enemy, while just 11% say it is a partner…

    …There is also little support for U.S. drone strikes against extremist leaders – those who are aware of these attacks generally say they are not necessary, and overwhelmingly they believe the strikes kill too many civilians…


    …Just over one-in-three Pakistanis (35%) have heard about the drone strikes. Nearly all (93%) of those who are familiar with the strikes say they are a bad thing…


    …Awareness of U.S. drone attacks against extremists groups and leaders within Pakistan has increased since last year. Today, 27% say they have heard a lot about these attacks, compared with 14% last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of Pakistanis who have heard a little has risen from 21% to 29%…

    …As in previous years, those who know about the drone strikes tend to view them negatively. Nearly all (97%) say they are a bad thing – and 65% say they are very bad…

    …Fully 61% of those who know about the strikes say they are unnecessary and 89% think they kill too many innocent people.

    Only 21% of Pakistanis say they support the idea of U.S. and Pakistan working together to conduct drone strikes against extremist leaders…

    The Pew polls are not outliers. International Republican Institute polls from 2009 (and earlier) all show similar findings:

    …the July 2009 poll indicated a decrease in the willingness of Pakistanis to cooperate with the United States against extremism, with the number supporting such cooperation dropping to 18 percent…

    Again from IRI in 2009:

    …An opinion poll by the International Republican Institute conducted last summer found that 80 percent of Pakistanis believed the country should not cooperate with America in the war on terror. The poll had a margin of error of 1.41 percentage points…

    Given just these same recurring and increasing Pakistani sentiments over a number of years , there seems to be ample evidence that the pursuit of US National Security, including our drone war there, has been and is a harbinger of little good for the Pakistani nation state.

    • PeasantParty says:

      Not to mention that their current turmoil with India is not helped when we/US trades nuclear secrets for mangos and continues to play nice with both the Pakistan and India sides of the coin.

      Seriously? What the hell are the leaders thinking? We pretend to be friends and not enemies, yet we drone them and feed their enemies nuke secrets all at the same time!

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It’s cheaper to assassinate a foreign leader or individual “insurrectionist” – presumably that includes intellectual and political “deviants’, not just violent ones – than to defend against their possible illegal actions here, so let’s kill them now, while we’ve got the chance? Mr. Wittes has missed his calling; he should apply to be press spokesman for Mr. Corleone or Mr. Putin.

  5. thatvisionthing says:

    More from Spencer:

    (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.

    …or the stupidity in the first place?

    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.

    …or even whether in the first place?

    Why is war such a given? What ever happened to Marcy’s CompLit majors? After 10 years of fail by killing, DARPA thought about maybe trying to communicate reasonably — I think?

    Technical areas for consideration include, but are not limited to: (1) case-based reasoning; (2) computational HSCB modeling in human terrain; (3) distributed social networks for mixed-initiative story construction and presentation; (4) psychological theories of narrative understanding and storytelling, and; (5) knowledge-based game rendering. We encourage very non-traditional approaches to this problem (e.g., a virtual tribal storyteller interacts with a human mime to produce a silent theater improvisation with audience participation).

    I think that means let’s try talking? Not sure if that goes so far as listening and understanding?

    (“virtual tribal storyteller interacts with a human mine to produce a silent theater improvisation…” — I wonder if we can read their cartoons?)

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    Somewhere in the press, soon after the drone video piracy incident, it was divulged that early prototypes of that platform had failed to encrypt the camera telemetry signals, a lax design area which was solved by a software patch to prevent further illicit intercepts; as the video stream, if available widely, could give away much more about tactics, and outcomes, than would be prudent. The article, however, failed to assert any claim that the total cost to develop and deploy that patch remained <$26.

  7. skepticdog says:

    It has nothing to do with national security. The biggest treat right now is in Mexico. 40 people killed in 24 hours.

    • bmaz says:

      That has EVERYTHING to do with national security as Mexico and the “war” on drugs and drug gangs is the next military expansion and will bring the military/security state ever so much closer to the inside of our own borders.

      • TarheelDem says:

        Good point. And the flip side of the arms race is the response of the cartels. They are among those non-state actors threatening sovereignty.

  8. Synoia says:

    An issue with drone is non-accountability….

    Whose drone is that droning over my skies?

    And bombing my people?

    And killing our leaders?

    Not mine, not mine, not mine, not mine said all the parties, droning on…plausibly denying their guilt.

    • PierceNichols says:

      I think it’s adorable when people pretend that curbs on weapons sales in the US would have any effect on violence in Mexico. Cut off from US supplies of guns, the cartels will just start making their own. It’s not nearly as hard as it used to be. Any policy predicated on manufacturing being hard is likely to fail.

      Robotics is moving ahead shockingly quickly, across the board. Some of the new robotic manufacturing technologies are completely unreal in their speed, flexibility, and quality. Quadrotors are coming up fast in aerial gear… and you can buy them at Brookstones for $400. I saw someone demoing one in the mall last Xmas. It was a very ‘I live in the future’ moment.

  9. lobster says:

    Late to the party and I haven’t caught up, but similar issues (particularly the empowerment of small, non-national actors) arose with the discovery of the explosive nuclear chain reaction. Einstein had several observations associated also with the imbalance between offensive uses of certain technology compared to defensive alternatives.

    Sorry if this is OT.

    • lobster says:

      Einstein predicted (in particular) that such technological advances would force either the end of humanity or the end of nation-states. His prediction was specific to nuclear weapons, but I think the flavor is similar.

      As I recall, he wrote that there had to be a single supranational agency with the power to enforce international law — all because of the advance of technology. He had his doubts about whether the social change implied could keep up. The essay was written in 1946, 5-7 months after the bombings of Japan.

  10. liberalarts says:

    To what extent is a nation state’s legitimacy as such undermined by deploying drones against its citizens: crowd control. We used to make wicked fun of the Soviets for this kind of thing, but it’s being worked on here as we speak.

  11. TarheelDem says:

    Absolute sovereignty and an absolutist interpretation of the Treaty of Westphalia died on November 11, 1919. There was an international determination to limit sovereignty through some collective mechanism so as to prevent general world wars. The League of Nations failed because of assertions of absolute sovereignty. The United Nations sought to remedy that by having the UN Security Council in extreme circumstances provide the collective legitimacy for breaching absolute sovereignty.

    The US use of drones in other countries does not fall within that mechanism; it is a unilateral declaration of and extreme form of “self-defense”. It’s violation of sovereignty is no different from that of an intercontinental ballistic missile or a cruise missile guided from the home country. It is not the technology, but the unilateral use of that technology that makes it a violation of sovereignty.

    But there is a complicating factor. We do not know what secret agreements the US has made with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen that preserve the figleaf of their sovereignty. And we know that the US considers Somalia essentially stateless. What gets muddled here is what constitutes legitimate protection of another country’s sovereignty by a third power (an ally, a protector) and what represents a not-so-well-disguised form of hegemony.

    But this part of your analysis is the key part:

    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.

    And what it says is that the control of military force (more with the use of mercenaries IMO than in the case of drones unless the mercenaries are operating the drones on their own authority or will loose oversight) is the statelessness of the decision-making to use military force. And the absence of a necessary socio-political purpose other than turning a profit. There is a decoupling from the Westphalian international order, but there is also a decoupling from Clausewitz’s principle that war is politics through other means. There is the danger that politics is not the guiding purpose at all.

    A second issue with drone strikes has to do with who identifies the targets and the coordinates of the targets. Depending on human intelligence assets to do this risks being played for private grievances or being suckered by double agents. And there is no representative of the drone-controlling state to provide checks and oversight to ensure that the military purpose is consistent with its political objective. This same problem exists in the creation of third party terrorist groups to serve national political objectives as the US and Pakistan have found out through blowback.

    Witte is onto something important. To understand the frame for his concern about robotics, think of how Anonymous, Wikileaks, and other transnational movements and groups have taken action against state and corporate assets (and data is considered an asset). Now imagine a transnational movement with 3-D printers that fabricate parts and the capability to engineer robots instead of just explosive devices. A movement whose objectives are not in service to any particular government.

    Now imaging a transnational corporation with the same capabilities but with the aim of using those capabilities to improve its control of resources, labor, or capital.

    The issue is indeed governance. The same technologies that are potentially democratizing can also be used to attack popular governance. And state sovereignty.

    Now consider what happens when the low cost and availability of these technologies and the proliferation of transnational groups (including business corporations) align in a trend.

    Any ideas about how to get ahead of this and get some governance without draconian action?

  12. TimWhite says:

    I thought I recently read somewhere that the next generation of drone technology will be the size of a bee.

    If such tech has the ability to carry additional tech (weapons, recording devices, etc.)… wow. I doubt it would have a big impact on every day life for most people in the world, but I suspect that the MOTU will be at least modestly concerned about their eventual proliferation.

    No more need to wish you were the proverbial fly-on-the-wall!

    Fascinating — and scary — topic.

      • bmaz says:

        Hey, why was the EW fearless roving reporter not at Hollywood Park today. Absolutely awesome race at the Gold Cup!

        • rosalind says:

          (uhm, off at best buy buying a new external hard drive in case my imac bursts into flame in the heat & humidity before the hvac repairman is able to come by…? i know, no excuse, and no comparison to the damage to casa bmaz from your big Haboob)

      • TimWhite says:

        thx. scary, scary… tho not so much for me… moreso for the MOTU… wouldn’t wanna be among them when this stuff proliferates, which — as mentioned — will inevitably happen. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll all disappear indefinitely to “undisclosed locations,” allowing the other 99% of the world to live in peace, get jobs and hopefully provide our children with better opportunities… seriously tho… this is almost like superhero comic book stuff!

  13. pastfedup says:

    Hi Marcy. Good post, haven’t read the comments yet but I agree with your premise. IMHO the inclination of our gov’t will be to use drones instead of a law enforcement approach (even when the situation warrants a law enforcement approach), simply because it is ‘easier’ and more ‘cost effective’ (collateral damage be damned). Kind of like the use of tasers today by cops has gotten out of hand, it’s the first thing they reach for, even when there is no physical threat.

    One thing in your post I do take issue with, however – your reference to the first Gulf War as ‘more legitimate.’ In no way, shape or form was that war legitimate, it was a set-up by George HW.

  14. skepticdog says:

    The proliferation of drones should be scary for the people in DC. A drone is the ultimate terror weapon, as we already know all too well.

    At least, it should cut down on the number of suicides. No reason to put on a bomber vest if a drone can do the work. I’m sure the military industrial complex is already planning on selling them to our “friends”. You can’t interfere with free enterprise.

  15. MadDog says:

    OT – Not wanting to trash the Trash post *g*, I thought I’d throw this out here. News from an Erie Ohio online site about John Durham’s CIA Grand Jury:

    Erie native at center of CIA probe

    Former CIA agent David Martine said being second-guessed comes with the territory.

    But Martine, an Erie native who teaches in Mercyhurst College’s intelligence-studies program and recently joined the Erie-based consulting firm of McManis & Monsalve, also wonders when enough is enough.

    He might find out this week.

    Martine said he’s been summoned to appear Tuesday and Wednesday before a federal grand jury in Virginia that’s looking into the death of two prisoners who had been in CIA custody during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Martine, 55, retired from the CIA in 2008.

    Martine is intimately familiar with one of those cases — the 2003 death of Iraqi Mandel al-Jamadi, who died during questioning at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad…

    …In the fall of 2003, however, he was the chief of the Detainee Elicitation Cell, charged with overseeing polygraphs and the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq.

    Martine said he wasn’t part of the Navy SEAL capture team that apprehended Jamadi — thought to be a leader of a terrorist cell linked to a bombing in Baghdad — in the early morning hours of Nov. 3, 2003. But Martine was the man in charge of the team that interrogated Jamadi…

      • MadDog says:

        I’d be curious about whether he’s been told he’s a target or not.

        Seems like if a detainee is hooded, suspended from a barred window by his wrists, which were bound behind his back, and died of asphyxiation, and Martine is in charge of the interrogations as well as the person who collected the evidence and filed the reports, being a Grand Jury target is not out of the realm of possibility here.

        • bmaz says:

          Agreed. There is sure no intimation in that article that there is target status afoot. You would think if he was a target, he would have counsel and would not be speaking voluntarily himself. But, who knows?

          • MadDog says:

            Yeah, I agree that it sounds unlikely.

            I suppose something like negligent homicide might come into play with regard to Martine’s mismanagement of detainee interrogations or perhaps something to do with covering up Jamadi’s death via the reporting paperwork, but yes, one would think that he’d have been given notice already, acquired counsel, and told to STFU.

            • bmaz says:

              There is a good argument that there ought to be a traditional statute of limitation on negligent homicide as it is not an intentional murder; but, under the federal statutes, there is not, negligent homicide is no different than premeditated and felony murder and has no limiting statute. So, Martine does still appear to at least potentially have the exposure.

    • Garrett says:

      “During his capture, he resisted in an extreme way,” Martine said. “During that struggle, things were knocked over. He banged his head against things.”

      A rifle butt, for one thing. Al-Jamadi banged his face against a SEAL’s rifle butt.

      Recent news stories have also been implying that al-Jamadi, while chained to a chair, banged his chest against a CIA interrogator, in a slow steady forceful way, resulting in the six broken ribs.

  16. forest says:

    OT, but tangent to the question, Is “National Security” a Good Excuse to Pursue Policies that Undermine the Nation-State?

    Our guest at the most recent book salon #34:

    what is one to do when these orders and processes contradict your principles and understanding of your obligations? Very difficult.

    No, it is not difficult. I have lost jobs for challenging unethical acts. Maybe they only hire people who find these questions difficult?

    They don’t need “national security” as an excuse to participate in policies that undermine the Nation-State. All they need is a suspension of their will to those who would do unspeakable harm to others.

    Sometimes it seems we over-think these things.

    “Following orders” is now a justified defense and I really wanted to challenge that statement he made even though I couldn’t, I would have probably been considered rude or misunderstanding as well – I get that and would feel a lil guilty but not very.

    I didn’t read the book but after reading that comment, why would I want to do so. I don’t see reason to give people comfort for what they knew at the time to be wrong but participated any way.

    I get that the crimes need documenting, thoroughly unwound, exposed to light. It all often seems a futile exercise without the justice. That said, I respect what people here are doing.

  17. fatster says:

    Ah, allies!

    Pakistan: US suspends $800m of military aid

    “The paper said the move was to show US anger at the expulsion of US military trainers and to pressure Pakistan to step up its fight against militants.”


  18. x174 says:

    sounds to me like this ironic awareness of issues surrounding the “governance” of illegal drone warfare smacks of a negative therapeutic reaction to the very use of the technology itself.

    nice explication of the “debate” mtw

  19. b2020 says:

    A few comments dropped from high altitude, where the oxygen is scarce…

    One, one of Wittes’ claims – drones are nothing really new – is essentially correct: legally, tactically, strategically, and ethically. The PW Singer types of the world, and their groupies, are running a dual scam – first, pretending that teleoperation is fundamentally different from other types of stand-off attack, and second, that teleoperation and autonomous operation are the same. Hence we arrive at Whocouldanoode and Whatcanyado, and if we talk enough, responsibility vanishes somewhere into the void between the hardware manufacturer, the software supplier, the telecom provider, the contractors servicing the gear, and the grunts pushing the buttons.

    That is as ridiculous as it is despicable. The Geneva Conventions and the laws of war are overdue a clear word on “man in the loop” requirements, and seen through this lens, any “autonomous” or sloppily remote-controlled weapon system is no different from landmines, badly manufactured cluster munitions, and indeed nerve gas. To borrow from day-to-day liability concepts, if you park your car without a functional brake on top of a hill, and it rolls into a playground in your absence, nobody will give you a pass. This concept does not change just because some CIA employee or contractor – or even a member of the armed forces – happens to operate a UAV on the other side of the globe in pursuit of undeclared, unconstitutional, and quite illegal war.

    As a corollary, I keep reading the claim that drone warfare is “cheap”. I would propose given the growth and investments made within the military-industrial complex, there is quite a significant expectation that enormous amounts of revenue and profit will be made. Granted, some of this might be a push sideways for an increasingly outsized Air Force, as the same budget – so far – buys more 2nd rate armchair pilots and more propfan UAVs than it could “Top Gun”, but at the moment drones are still largely on top, not in partial substitution, of “classic” expenditures. Rule of thumb: the defense establishment is never excited about any technology that is more effective and reduces expenses and profits. The Air Force handling of the CAS A-10 is an object lesson.

    I also keep reading that drone warfare is “safe”. Until and unless the UAVs have global reach or can be deployed and recovered in international waters, there are substantial costs and risks – increasingly outsourced to private profit – for maintaining airfields, forward maintenance and deployment. That fuel has to be brought in by truck or C-120 after all. There is also substantial cost in ensuring that the technology involved does not fall into the hands of opponents due to malfunction or adversity.

    Finally, drone warfare is – like virtually all modern US warfare concepts – impossible against anybody with a claim to near-peer competitor status. JDAM does not work against GPS jammers, and unless drone warfare is permitted to go fully autonomous, remote control is not robust against an enemy that has more than an AK-47 to fire back.

    Further, I believe that while your observation of the nation state is important, I believe that – pace Bill Lind – you have it exactly backwards. Drones are an expression of the decline of the nation state, not a cause, and that decline began in earnest with the weakening of the constitution domestically – a consequence of hegemony, illegal aggressive war, and the rule of men. The sovereign state is a contract between the government and its citizens, not necessarily democratic – see the times of the Treaty of Westphalia – but effective and functional. It is an ineffective, dysfunctional state that – liberty aside – threatens the livelihood and lives of its citizens that causes the reversal to tribal loyalties, the weakness of the state both permitting and necessitating it. In this respect, the conservative critique has been more consistent and illuminating than the liberal critique, ever since 2001.

    One of your other commenters wondered about tactical nukes on Reapers. Nuclear capability for manned aircraft is nothing new, so I would not want to carry this aspect too far. I would, however, like to point out – nothing new under the sun indeed – the long-going efforts to develop and deploy conventional warhead “surgical” ICBM and SLBM, also running risks of ambiguity about payload on a nuclear-capable weapons platform *with global reach*. I would also point to the absurdity (with respect to physics) of “rods from god”. I see drones to be the most recent and most advanced expression of a long-standing technological power-fantasy that is – almost – unique to the United States, that of “Wunderwaffen” that permit the leadership elites the elimination of specific individuals – or large groups, who is counting – anywhere on Earth within the 20 or 30 minutes that physics necessitates (for ballistic missiles), or less if sufficient standoff coverage can be established and maintained. Brennan exemplified this delusion with his bogus (or simply retracted) mouth-breathing regarding the Oval Office’s capability to see the OBL execution – now with extra-judicial – “live” – soon as 3D HDTV, now with glasses.

    I completely part ways with Wittes and his ilk when it comes to the canard of the “Knowledge-Enabled Individual” using “Knowledge of Mass Destruction”. This notion – fundamentally incompatible with a free and open society and the principles of the Enlightenment – was popularized by intellectual frauds like Bill Joy (compare his hysteria about “grey goo” to his silence on chemical and biological weapons research, and keep in mind the case of Amerithrax – the expensive labors of US bioweapon research applied by unknown perpetrators to a post-9/11 population). It is of a piece with rebranding roadside makeshift bombs made from artillery grenades as IEDs (and WW2 shaped charges as EFPs). Unless and until we see regular deployment of Arduino-powered remote controlled bombs, it is save to say that, Unabomber and cell phone triggers aside, the combination of knowledge and willingness to participate in mass murder is much more likely to be found within the military-industrial complex than outside of it. “Hacking” drones is of a piece with the “cyberwar” insanity – an insanity that brings not virtual Pearl Harbor but perpetual Gulf of Tonkin. The reason we have unsafe computer networks is ultimately because the US government and the corporations that it serves cannot tolerate security – such as encryption – for individuals and citizens. Happily, there is also a profit to be made selling “protection services”, so the sausage can be sliced from both ends.

    It is safe to say that proliferation of military drones is driven by US domestic concerns, first and foremost profit, secondly the militarized executive – both of those combining to a self-licking ice cream cone of phallic proportions. To be worrying about Chinese or Hamas drones is, quite frankly, to be part of the chorus of the ‘stablishment voices that are busily holding forth the Ode To Exculpability. When it comes to aggressive, illegal, unconstitutional war, there is no difference between mining Nicaraguan harbors, dropping bombs from manned airplanes, or firing missiles from UAVs. It is not the weapon platform used, it is the act of war without a Congressional declaration of war, the act in violation of the principles established at Nuremberg and the international treaties and UN charter that attempted to codify them.

    If the US had a box with a kill button, and all it took was Cameron Diaz to press it to start killing US citizens and/or others in remote places, at zero cost, zero immediate risk, and even with a “no blowback” guarantee provided by The Good Lord and Savior himself, it would mean fuck nothing with respect to the rule of law, the constitution, and common decency. Yes, having a remote controlled mosquito injecting a neurotoxin into some guy that “intel” has designated to be potentially engaged in “opposition-enabling program activities” at some point in the future that might affect the bottom line of a US corporation would make for a very different world, but if you squint, maybe its just the same as a fast-forward mode? Although I’d rather have Diaz than Obama push the button, even taking her choice of movie offerings into account.

    The drones are not the problem. Drones don’t kill people, people do. And you can be very sure that the 2nd Amendement will not create a balance of power with this weapon system anymore than it did with respect to handguns or rifles. Hence, KMD is a red herring. In the arms race between the oligarchy’s government on the one hand, and the citizens on the other, the citizens will never win, just as the votes of the many never succeed against the influence peddling of the few. It is the deterioration of government that opens the trapdoor to Ciudad Juarez, and it is the erosion of the consent of the governed, and dismissal of the need for that very consent, that weakens the government. It doesn’t help that the governed are largely OK with torture, assassination and illegal war, if they even give a shit. But if anybody seriously believes that the technology of the “drone bubble” is a cause, not an expression, of the very pathological dynamics that has shaped the last 40 years, then I have some “open source” warfare manuals to sell you.

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