Posted by: Tony Carson | 13 November, 2009

Robotic war — war without rules

Robotic warfare is the future. And the future is now.

The US how employs 7,000 drones in its various wars; the army uses 12,000 land bots. And the number is growing by the day … with considerable urgency.

As we wrote earlier — Increasingly, the US military is using their unmanned drones, often ‘flown’ from a military base in the Nevada desert, to attack deep inside non-enemy countries with the inevitable consequence of wreckless civilians death. In the past two weeks, there have been US drone attacks in Pakistan and Syria killing innocent civilians and in Iraq and Afghanistan … and, presumably other targets that fall under the convenient catch-all of confidentiality.

In fact, The U.S. government runs two drone programs. The military’s version, which is publicly acknowledged, operates in the recognized war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and targets enemies of U.S. troops stationed there. As such, it is an extension of conventional warfare. The C.I.A.’s program is aimed at terror suspects around the world, including in countries where U.S. troops are not based. It was initiated by the Bush Administration and, according to Juan Zarate, a counterterrorism adviser in the Bush White House, Obama has left in place virtually all the key personnel. The program is classified as covert, and the intelligence agency declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed.

As Jane Mayer notes in The New Yorker, The Predator War, “The intelligence agency declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed.”

Roger Cohen has a NY Times column on this today.

Since taking office, President Obama has shown a quiet predilection for drone warfare. He’s been vacuuming up targets. There are two programs in operation: a publicly acknowledged military one in Iraq and Afghanistan and a covert C.I.A. program targeting terror suspects in countries including Pakistan.

Obama has authorized as many drone strikes in Pakistan in nine and a half months as George W. Bush did in his last three years in office — at least 41 C.I.A. missile strikes, or about one a week, that may have killed more than 500 people.

But no one is talking about these acts of war, not in any moral sense.

Sure, Roger Cohen said this:

It’s time for a reckoning, especially from a president who campaigned so vigorously against the “dark side” of the war on terror. Congressional review of the drone programs and the full implications of robotic warfare is essential to cast light and lay ground rules. The Obama administration should not be targeting people for killing without some public debate about how such targets are selected, what the grounds are in the laws of war, and what agencies are involved. Right now there’s an accountability void.

But that’s pretty small beer. Sending drones into a country should be the equivalent of sending a fighter jet or a bomber into a country: an act of war, regulated by international law.

Who wants an internal debate within the US war cabinet about the morality of robotic war? Where’s that going to get us?

We need international laws to govern these lethal robots … and the command who work their joysticks. And we need those international laws right now.


  1. Sure…Anything to weaken America.

    It never even occurs to you that these might be necessary missions and might be preventing people from being killed later by the terrorists who were targeted, does it?

    If the intelligence determining the target is sound, then it makes no difference whether they’re exterminated by a Predator 2 or by a SEAL team. Likewise, the intelligence determining the target is NOT sound, then it makes no difference whether they’re exterminated by a Predator 2 or by a SEAL team.

  2. So it’s OK for the US to send a lethal pedator into downtown Toronto when it has ‘good evidence’ that a nefarious plan is afoot?

    Can only image what would happen if the reverse scenario occurred … which will be inevitable as the US floods the world with bots and drones as it has with the rest of its arsenal.

    So you don’t think international laws matter? Can the US just bomb other countries with impunity like Pakistan and Syria based on their notoriously unreliable ‘intelligence?’ Don’t buy it janolan, don’t by it for a nanosecond.

  3. Of course you don’t buy it, Tony. You care more for others than you do for Americans, or at least that’s what your post and comments make it sound like.

    Again, what difference does the weaponry make? Covert Ops team or Predator, the results are the same.

    What is your problem with America doing what is absolutely necessary to protect itself and its citizenry?

    Do you really hate us all that much?

  4. The difference between ‘covert ops’ teams and Predators is that, as I understand it, one is governed by international law and the other isn’t.

    But please, answer my question. Is it OK for the US to take out a building in Toronto if they have ‘intelligence’ that there is some threat to US citizens?

    I love the states for all its magnificent and generous accomplishments, just as the world does. But its unchecked brutality? Not so much.

  5. There’s no real difference between the two from a practical sense. Before drones, we sent in teams to do what needed to be done. International law only applies when the nation whose borders has been violated chooses to be a “complaining witness.” That doesn’t happen against the US very often. 😉

    To answer your question: Yes, if we have good intel that there’s a threat in that building and the Canadians are unable or unwilling to respond in time to prevent the threat.

    You see, that’s one point you’ve failed to take into consideration. The CIA only uses those drones in areas where the “host” nation is unwilling or unable to be an effective partner – like Pakistan.

    But, even in Pakistan we only strike into territories where the Pakistani government has little or no control and less interest in exerting any for completely understandable reasons.

  6. But, Jeez, Jonolan, the US is hated throughout the Muslim world and mistrusted in many other places. Why? Because of your freedoms? Or because the US in one way or other is kicking ass all over the world? What has the Taliban done against you? Or Saddam? Or Iran? Syria? Vietnam? Granada?

    How many ‘terrorists’ would the US create in Canada if you bombed that building in Toronto? We probably couldn’t go to war against you but you can be bloody certain you would be facing a whole new orientation of ‘terrorist’ threats.

    As a result of those awful attacks on the US in 9/11 the US has gone to war against two countries, created a whole new species of enemies, driven the country into chasmous debt, killed anywhere from a million to two million people and lost thousands of its own.

    So what’s the difference?

    When another country gets whacked by the US don’t the people have the same instinct: to get even? So where does this end?

    Going back to the toronto thing, the US just has to hope that Canada can sort it out, help if they can, even embargo but when you let slip the dogs of war they’re going to bite you in the ass: the great message of asymmetrical warfare.

  7. OK, the US is hated throughout the Muslim world. Being hated by the agents of evil doesn;t really bother me or any other American; it may bother the Liberals in America, but they’re not truly Americans anyway.

    I lived for some years in north Africa and the Middle-East. My experience tells me that the average person there does not hate Americans as envy our wealth and think that we have done nothing to deserve it. On that point they’re partially accurate.

    Goin back to the Toronto thing – Canada CAN sort it out. Other countries who harbor, willingly or unwillingly, America’s enemies cannot.

  8. BTW: Are you’all Canucks? Your idiom sounds American as do most of the issues on this blog, but Toronto area types sound like that.

    I ask because it effect my opinion and rhetoric. I hold foreigners to a different – not lesser in any way- standard than I do fellow residents in America.

    I’m a staunch nationalist and fully accept that America’s interests and that of other peoples may not always be in agreement. Therefore I cannot hold a particularly negative opinion of foreigner solely based on the fact that they are against the the US.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: