Predator Drones for Sale! (Human Rights, International Law Optional)
My drone is yours, compadre! Or so Washington has now decided. The latest promise of good times in the arms trade comes from an administration that has pioneered a robotic assassination regime organized out of the White House (though credit for groundbreaking drone assassination work should go to Israel as well). Run largely by the CIA, the U.S. drone campaigns across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa have weekly taken out suspected enemies or even “targets” that exhibit (in the judgment of people thousands of miles away and from another culture) enemy-like behavior. In the process, the Bush and Obama administrations also pioneered the crossing of sovereign borders without permission for an ongoing killing process not defined as war and which, despite much bragging about “precision,” has regularly taken out ordinary civilians, including significant numbers of children. In the process, it has brought a sense of daily terror to peasant populations in the backlands of the planet. Now, Washington is ready to spread the wealth. The State Department has just announced that armed Predator and Reaper drones will be available for sale to carefully vetted and selected allies around the world. This is, of course, splendid news for U.S. arms makers in a market that, over the next decade, is expected to more than double in size from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion. However, as the Washington Post reports, this new program will build “on the Obama administration’s update last year to rules on conventional weapons transfers, which emphasize human rights protections in decisions about arms sales.”
For such sales, Washington, as the planetary “human rights” leader, is planning to set up “proper use” or “end use” rules when it comes to assassination by drone. Here’s a typical Washington rule of the road: if you buy an armed drone from the U.S., you must agree not to use “unlawful force against... domestic populations” -- that is, you must not kill your own citizens in your own country. (Translation: Turkey could theoretically not use such drones against its Kurdish population.) Implied exception: You can target and assassinate your own citizens by drone as long as they are not within your own boundaries. This is a rule of the road that Washington has already definitively pioneered, so far killing four of its own citizens by drone in Yemen and Pakistan, which means assumedly that Turkey could indeed kill a Turkish Kurd as soon as he or she stepped across any border.
Among the things Washington has established with its presidential drone assassination forces is that you can indeed kill both the leaders and the followers of terror outfits, or simply of any organization you consider to be your enemy (while causing considerable “collateral damage”). In the process, Washington has proved one thing: that drones will drive large groups of terrorized and vengeful peasants into the arms of those same terror outfits, increasing their strength and fragmenting societies.
Now, the U.S. is preparing to “export” the drone paradigm it has spent so much time building in this young century. China and Israel have already entered the armed drone market as well. Other countries will follow. Drones will be bought in quantity. Borders will be crossed, according to the latest Washington-pioneered rules, by ever more dronified states organizing their own assassination campaigns. If the Washington model proves true, this will further fragment whole societies, create yet more religiously based extremism, and make our world an even less appetizing place. Think of this as the twenty-first-century version (now forming) of the Washington Consensus and keep it in mind as you read “The Real American Exceptionalism,” the latest piece by historian Alfred McCoy, author of Torture & Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, on all the rules of the road Washington has so enthusiastically been writing in these years and just where they are likely to take us.