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The American Drone ‘Apartheid’: Global Reactions to U.S. Technical Dominance

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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There is growing dissent across the Middle East and beyond at what is perceived to be a total lack of transparency, ethics, and scrutiny over the U.S. government’s use of drones.

This concern was growing even before the U.S. expanded drone use into the Arabian Peninsula and Northern Africa. All of this consternation revolves around four fundamental questions that the United States has been reckless in ignoring on the global stage. Meanwhile, the answers based on previous American drone usage probably carry some severe repercussions for American foreign and military policies, let alone global peace and security:

Who is controlling the weapon system?

Does the system of control and oversight violate international law governing the use of force?

Are drone strikes proportionate acts that provide military effectiveness given the circumstances of the conflict they are being used in?

Does their use violate the sovereignty of other nations and allow the United States to disregard formal national boundaries?

Unfortunately, the overwhelming dominance of American drone capability allows these questions to remain largely unanswered or answered in contradictory ways. Analysts focused on short-term strategic advantage consider this purposeful avoidance brilliant, while analysis concerned with the long-term bigger picture worries that anytime interpretive space is allowed into drones’ ethical arena it is usually filled by a cacophony of conspiracy and hyperbole.

In an environment where drone technology is being openly sold on a massive scale across the global market and countless countries are striving to build and obtain their own drone fleets, it is deeply troubling that the general consensus around the world is that America uses drones in a manner that makes questionable targeting and covert killing commonplace. The lack of concern within American corridors of power seems predicated on lazy assurance that no real rivals would be willing to learn from and follow these ambiguities and obfuscations as precedent. The following evidence seems to indicate that might be the biggest mistaken assumption of all.

China and Pakistan

Most discussions of an immediate drone rival to the United States usually focus on China. China supposedly has over 900 different types of drones. The three most common Chinese UAVs, the Chengdu Xianlong and Pterodactyl 1 and the Sharp Sword, have startling similarities to the American Global Hawk, Reaper and Predator X-47B stealth drone respectively. This of course alludes to China’s success in economic espionage, where it is believed massive amounts of confidential technical and commercial applications have been stolen from America. This begs a question: why do so many experts believe in continued American technical domestic dominance when China shows how easy it is to bypass technical domestic innovation? Why develop it when you can just steal it?

Perhaps more disconcerting is the fact that China is an active participant in the sellers’ market, best epitomized by the Pakistan-China interaction. Few people realize Pakistan openly tried to gain drone technology from the United States, arguing that it would be able to continue the fight the U.S. had semi-legally begun on its territory against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. America politely but steadfastly refused this request. Frustrated, Pakistan turned to China. The Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said such deals with China would be both immensely beneficial to Pakistan and the world in general as it would offset America’s ‘undeclared technological apartheid.’

American analysts should not derisively dismiss such judgment. The U.S. refusal of Pakistan has been based on successive American presidential administrations feeling Pakistan was not ‘capable of handling such technology.’ As an olive branch the U.S. counter-offered a range of reconnaissance UAVs. In other words, it offered the very technology that American analysts openly deride as second-class and why other countries around the world will never catch up to the United States.

This is why the phrase ‘drone apartheid’ matters: Pakistan considered itself an ally to the U.S., fighting the same fight and challenging the same enemies, but was not trusted to have the same advanced weapons. How does Pakistan avoid feeling like the U.S. has purposely compromised its own security? Perhaps in a slightly ironic nod to the American tendency to talk out of both sides of its diplomatic mouth when it comes to drones, Prime Minister Sharif issued a statement after the China deal saying that Pakistan now had the capability to shoot down U.S. drones but would be a ‘responsible state.’ Fascinatingly, the greatest worry for America might be other states acquiring drones and adopting the same standards for its operational missions.

Middle East

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) actually succeeded in destroying a drone that it tracked flying over sensitive military installations and approaching the Dimona nuclear reactor in 2013. Israelis did not disclose whether or not this ‘enemy drone’ was successful in its mission but they were certain that it was not American, Chinese, or Russian. IDF claimed it to be an Iranian drone assembled in Lebanon and flown by Hezbollah. I have loosely called this the world’s first ‘Islamic Crescent drone’ and emphasized how it signaled a dangerous advance in the transnational proliferation of drone technology.

Iran has taken the lead in the region, claiming in 2013 to have developed both ‘Epic,’ a drone supposedly designed for both combat and reconnaissance, and ‘Throne,’ a long-range combat UAV with alleged stealth capabilities. While the general global reaction to these announcements has been skeptical, there are still important things to consider: it is relevant that Iran makes a point that its drones have the dual capability of both combat and surveillance/reconnaissance. The U.S. has pushed to keep these capabilities separate on the global market. Almost immediately upon these so-called Iranian ‘achievements’ both Egypt and Saudi Arabia became far more interested in acquiring drones for their militaries and developing their own programs. So the cascade effect is already happening in the drone market.

On that same level Turkey has openly pursued tactical UAVs for its own internal problem with the Kurdish Workers Party. The Turkish Army believed it was letting a prominent strategic advantage slip by if it did not acquire drones capable of helping in border security, urban warfare, and other operational missions innate to the fight against insurgent Kurds. The position is in essence a policy switch away from Israel, which had long been supplying its own Heron-1 medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs to Turkey. So the Turkey-Israel connection shows an increasing sophistication in the drone acquisition market, where states now become more demanding and explicit about their own national security needs.

Greater Asia

Singapore joined the list of Israeli drone acquirers in 2012. Unlike other countries, Singapore emphasized how the acquisition was just the first step in its long-term plans. Ultimately, success in the drone era according to Singapore depended not just on the existence of technology but on the development and training of talented personnel to operate it. Thus, it is yet another chink in the American armor that presupposes an easy continued dominance for its own drone fleet. Confidence in the superiority of American training is likely well-founded, but there is a difference between superiority and inaccessibility. Meaning, if drone technology can be stolen or purchased, so too can drone training techniques. It is not difficult to imagine a day where drone armies are operated by personnel that are relatively equal in terms of U.S. talent.

Indeed, Singapore seems to be a leading example for the greater region, as Asia Pacific has the biggest potential to be one of the largest UAV markets in the world. In addition to China and Singapore, India, South Korea, North Korea, Malaysia, and Australia are all active participants in the drone market, each one aiming to develop its own fleet. Thus, the complex reality of today’s drone era is getting ignored by American analysts: the United States does not worry about India, Australia, or South Korea becoming proficient in drone technology, but the same really cannot be said for North Korea, Malaysia, or China.

The countries in question are aggressively pursuing not just acquisition but domestic industrial production. In addition, these activities are being matched by a strategic military prioritization aimed at developing skilled personnel. More importantly, complex interdependence and the linked nature of conflict in the modern era mean this drone activity does not take place in a vacuum: all of these developments create reactive effects onto the global stage that are detrimental to peace. American comfort with drones so far has been predicated on a belief in maintaining superiority over three things: emerging rivals, domestic production, and commercial activity. The United States has de facto tried to create a ‘drone apartheid’ that it not only controls but also expects global acquiescence, even though most of the world does not support the idea that America is the most responsible, transparent, and ethical user of drones. Perhaps most importantly, just like with South Africa, this apartheid also seems destined to fall. When it does, America might be advised to worry about chickens coming home to roost.

MD Executive Vice Chairman Dr. Matthew Crosston is Senior Faculty for the Doctoral Programs in Global Security and Strategic Intelligence at the American Military University. He has published top-tier research that has impacted real world decision-making in the US and beyond, with over 30 peer-reviewed scholarly articles and over 100 analytical editorials and commissioned opinion pieces representing the full spectrum of global security translated into Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Greek, and Uzbek. Currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel, Crosston has won global fellowships at the Research Institute for European and American Studies, the China Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research, and was the first American invited to conduct political analysis for the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow, Russia. He has a BA from Colgate University, MA from the University of London, and PhD from Brown University. https://americanmilitary.academia.edu/DrMatthewCrosston

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Americas

Scandinavia Veers Left plus D-Day Reflections as Trump Storms Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Mette Frederiksen of the five-party Social Democrat bloc won 91 of the 169 seats in the Danish parliament ending the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party group that had governed for 14 of the last 18 years.  The election issues centered on climate change, immigration and Denmark’s generous social welfare policies.  All parties favored tighter immigration rules thereby taking away the central issue dominating the far-right Democrat Freedom Party which has seen its support halved since the last election in 2015.

Ms Frederiksen promised more spending to bolster the much loved social welfare model and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy.  A left wave is sweeping Scandinavia as Denmark becomes the third country, after Sweden and Finland, to move left within a year.  Mette Frederiksen will also be, at 41, the youngest prime minister Denmark has ever had.

Donald Trump has used the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorations to garner positive publicity.  The supreme promoter has managed to tie it in with a “classy” (his oft-chosen word) state visit to the UK spending a day with royals.  It was also a farewell to the prime minister as her resignation is effective from June 7.  Add a D-Day remembrance ceremony at Portsmouth and he was off to his golf course in Ireland for a couple of days of relaxation disguised as a visit to the country for talks — he has little in common with the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is half-Indian and gay.

Onward to France where leaders gathered for ceremonies at several places.  It is easy to forget the extent of that carnage:  over 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy alone mostly from aerial bombing and artillery fire.  The Normandy American cemetery holds over 9600 soldiers.  All in all, France lost in the neighborhood of 390,000 civilian dead during the whole war.  Estimates of total deaths across the world range from 70 to 85 million or about 3 percent of the then global population (estimated at 2.3 billion).

Much has been written about conflict resolutions generally from a cold rational perspective.  Emotions like greed, fear and a sense of injustice when unresolved lead only in one direction.  There was a time when individual disputes were given the ultimate resolution through single combat.  Now legal rights and courts are available — not always perfect, not always fair, but neither are humans.

It does not take a genius to extrapolate such legal measures to nations and international courts … which already exist.  Just one problem:  the mighty simply ignore them.  So we wait, and we honor the dead of wars that in retrospect appear idiotic and insane.  Worse is the attempt to justify such insanity through times like the “good war”, a monstrous absurdity.

It usually takes a while.  Then we get leaders who have never seen the horror of war — some have assiduously avoided it — and the cycle starts again.

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Americas

To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Robert Mueller let loose a thunderbolt midweek.  Donald Trump had not been charged, he said, because it was Department of Justice policy not to charge a sitting president.  Dumping the issue firmly into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lap, he reminded us of the purpose of the impeachment process.  According to Mueller there are ten instances where there are serious issues with the president obstructing justice adding that his report never concludes that Trump is innocent.

So here is a simple question:  If Mueller thought the president is not innocent but he did not charge him because of Justice Department policy, and he appears also to favor impeachment, then why in heaven’s name did he not simply state in his report that the preponderance of evidence indicated Trump was guilty?

Nancy Pelosi is wary of impeachment.  According to the rules, the House initiates it and when/if  it finds sufficient grounds, it forwards the case to the Senate for a formal trial.  The Senate at present is controlled by Republicans, who have been saying it’s time to move on, often adding that after two years of investigation and a 448-page report, what is the point of re-litigating the issue?  They have a point and again it leads to the question:  if Special Counsel Mueller thinks Trump is guilty as he now implies, why did he not actually say so?

Never one to miss any opportunity , Trump labels Mueller, highly conflicted, and blasts impeachment as ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word’,  He has also stopped Don McGahn, a special counsel at the White House from testifying before Congress invoking ‘executive privilege’ — a doctrine designed to keep private the president’s consultations with his advisors.  While not cited anywhere in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held it to be ‘fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the Separation of Powers under the Constitution.’  Separation of powers keeps apart the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, meaning each one cannot interfere with the other.

Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from the young firebrands.  Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has already expressed the view that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump given the obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight duty.

Speaker Pelosi is a long-time politician with political blood running through her veins — her father was Mayor of Baltimore and like herself also a US Representative.  To her the situation as is, is quite appealing.  Trump’s behavior fires up Democrats across the country and they respond by emptying their pockets to defeat the Republicans in 2020.  Democratic coffers benefit so why harm this golden goose — a bogeyman they have an excellent chance of defeating — also evident from the numbers lining up to contest the Democratic presidential primaries, currently at 24. 

Will Trump be impeached?  Time will tell but at present it sure doesn’t look likely.

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Americas

When Republicans Are In Power, Banks, Real Estate, and Insurance Companies Crush The People

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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There is certainly a correlation by and between when conservatives and Republicans talk about “de-regulation” and “freedom” of business, in the outright and total crushing of the American people underneath a boot of immorality.

For example, insurance companies will start to increase the use dishonest and unethical “adjustors” to set out to deny lawful proper claims for insurance, such as when someone has fully paid their expensive premiums, but then is cruelly and out of hand denied much needed assistance from these insurance companies for various health problems, automobile accidents, home and renters policy mishaps, professional liability defense, general business liability assistance, property damage, and other types of accidents and mishaps that these insurance companies state that they were designed to protect their customers with.

These insurance companies know fully well that the poor and middle class do not have the ability to hire and retain competent high powered lawyers to defend their interests, either by entangling with them or in dealing with the entities that are coming after them in the above named types of life problems.

The Democrats had created and implemented such consumer watchdog agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) and the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) and these agencies were very successful in prosecuting, investigating, and beating back insurance company and banker predatory behavior, but then the lobbying groups for these industries began to buy and pay for Republican whores and populated the Congress and Senate with their “people,” and low and behold, we got an avalanche of “deregulation” from the Executive and Legislative Branches, gutted agencies and replacement of its leaders, all of a sudden leaving the American people at the will and hellish end of the retaliatory insurance and banking industries, and now things are worse than they ever were before.

Similarly, as the Insurance industry benefited from screwing over the American people, the Banking industry simultaneously have begun again to rape the American people, by instituting usurious collections and interest rates, sometimes as high as 50-60%, on such things as student loans in default through no fault of the borrower (due to sickness, injury, loss of employment, bankruptcy) and credit card companies now routinely rape and pillage the American people with ungodly APRs and other “bait and switch” mechanisms designed to fleece their customers, enriching themselves while impoverishing their customers.

All the while these banks and insurance companies are charging more than ever for premiums, simple day to day processes such as ATM machine usage, finance charges, late fees, and other highway robbery-type methods to steal from the American people.

The real estate industry, headed up by men such as Ben Carson of HUD, have now mercilessly began to crush tenants and mortgage holders, denying them basic warranties of safety and habitability, skirting all state and federal regulation so as to make a buck.

“Freedom” as used by Republican and conservative leaders was supposed to mean something different than giving trillion dollar international banks, real estate, and insurance companies the license to rape and pillage the American people, but “deregulation” is the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing” or “trojan horse” by these communist industries to devastate the American people, and they must be reigned in once again by the Democrat led powers in the Congress and the Senate, and perhaps even the Judiciary (state and federal).

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