Monday, 12 March 2012

US Drone strikes may now be legal but are they right?

There has been a worrying move in recent weeks for the US to justify their use of drone warfare, not just in Afghanistan but also in other nations including Pakistan, Yeman, Somalia and the Philipines. They may be able to add de jure justification to their arsenal but have they truely considered the implications of their actions?
In the pursuit of victory in the elusive Global War On Terror (GWOT) the us justifies actions against Islamic fundementalist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al Shabab as legal under the international rules of war - the targeting of elected combatants within the defined theatre (in the GWOTs case the whole world). However, their blinkered view of their actions means they often miss the issue arising from following the warpath too closely.
Somalia is an excellent example; in the last few years the US has bnegun using drones, strike fighters and special forces operatives in an ongoing struggle against the terrorist group Al Shabab who control much of southern Somalia. In doing so, they argue they also help the Transitonal Ferderal Government and the forces of the African Union, kenya and Ethiopia in creating a secure Somalia. I would raise severla problems with this strategy:
  • The issue of sovereignty
  • The alienation of allies
  • The alienation of civilians
  • Military/aid balence
Somalia is the worlds worst 'failed state' and whether that is an agreeable label or not it presents certain facts. Somalia has no control over the legitimate use of force, over its territory and over its people. The only form of sovereignty existing in Somalia, indeed the only thin that really makes Somalia a state at all is the fact that it's border is supposedly protected under international law. The fact that this last shred of sovereignty was trodden into the dust under the combat boots of the invading Ethiopian and Kenyan armies does not mean that it should not give America pause for thought. If the aim is to help Somalia, a questionable statement in its own right, then abusing its sovereignty by deploying aerial and combat forces inside its borders without consent and conducting operations against its citizens, often with casualties, is a terrible way to go about it. It seems that America, and other guilty parties such as France, should take lessons from those states who actively support Somali sovereignty rather than riding roughshod over it in pursuit of selfish aims.

The US, in its hunt for terrorists, is also at risk of alienating allies and other states. Pakistan has already expressed dissatisfaction with the continued abuse of its border with Afghanistan by US forces and while one Somali minister went as far as welcoming air strikes the backlash against the statement may demonstrate that it is not the prevailing opinion. America does not have enough friends that it can afford to lose them over disputes about sovereignty and the abuse of military power.

Within the states targeted their is also an issue. Ordinary citizens fear American attacks because of the repeated loss of mass civilian life in US bombing raids. The lack of apology or restitution for these war-crimes-in-all-but-name has also turned feeling against the US, and against its allies. this can become a serious problem if America's casual and unapologetic killing of innocent people pushes citizens back into the arms of extremist groups and against democratic agents and governments.

The GWOT has also mean that one of the richest nations on Earth believes that military expenditure in the endless hunt for yet more extremists is a better way of 'helping' weak states than actually providing support and financial aid. In short America is conducting a war without boundaries or rules, a show conflict where they cannot be brought to account and paradoxically may be harming their cause more than helping it if they continue on this road of uncaring military force.

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