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

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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.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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The Turkey and the U.S. Holiday Season

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Guess!  Forty-six million turkeys are eaten in the US over the course of a year, a month or a certain day?  The surprising answer (or maybe not) is the latter … on the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday in November.  Another 22 million are devoured over Christmas and 19 million perish at Easter.

We are a carnivorous culture.  If 46 million turkeys stand side-by-side, they make a line some 7,000 miles long or about twice the distance between the East and West coasts.  Despite all this, turkey is only the fourth source of protein in the U.S. coming in as it does after chicken, beef and pork.

Nevertheless, almost 1.4 billion pounds of turkey were consumed at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter — to the 46 million Thanksgiving turkeys one can add 22 million for Christmas and 19 million for Easter (2011 figures).  About a third of the turkeys are eaten during the holidays and two-thirds over the rest of the year.  It adds up to about 230,000 birds in total.

That is the front end for turkeys.  But not all the turkey is eaten.  The carcass and some of the meat ends up in trash cans.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates a third of global food is wasted.  That figure coincides with what the US Department of Agriculture projects for turkeys  — 35 percent goes into garbage cans and ends up in landfills.

The average weight of a turkey is 15 lbs. giving us approximately 690 million pounds for the 46 million consumed during Thanksgiving.  It also means 240 million pounds goes to the waste dumps. 

Turkey is not the only waste — Americans throw away 25 percent more waste during the approximately month-long holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year (think of all the gift wraps, Christmas trees, cardboard boxes, ribbons, sticky tape, etc.).  On ribbons also, if people in the U.S. reused just 2 feet of holiday ribbon, it would save 38,000 miles of ribbon.  And if each family wrapped only 3 gifts in re-used Christmas wrapping paper, the saved paper would be enough to cover 4,500 football fields.  All of which might seem to be in the spirit of the grinch that stole Christmas, but the general idea is to think about minimizing waste.

Perhaps all of this is irrelevant in a world in the grip of the covid virus.  The essence of holidays lies in the gatherings of friends and relatives, something frowned upon in the age of covid.  So, a quiet march to the New Year and a muted “Happy New Year” with a ‘beware of the omicron strain’ under one’s breath.

Such is the world of covid with its frustratingly temporary immunity.  Is there a possibility it will eventually become like the common cold, a nuisance with which we learn to live?  As it is the latest version i.e. the omicron variant shares its genetic code with the cold virus and is more easily transmissible. 

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The American Initiative for a “Better World” and its difference with the Chinese Belt and Road

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During their summit held at the end of July 2021 in the city of “Cornwall” in Britain, the leaders of the countries (the Group of Seven major economic leaders “G7” led by Washington) have been announced the launch of an ambitious global initiative called “Rebuilding a Better World”. It is internationally, known as:

Build Back Better World (B3W)

  The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative aims to (meet the massive financing requirements for infrastructure needs). The most important differences and distinguishes between (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road and the American initiative to build a better world), are highlighted, through:

1) The intense Chinese interest in doing (development initiatives that are not politically conditional, unlike the American tool that sets political goals and conditions as a condition for the work of projects or the provision of loans, as well as China’s interest in infrastructure and community projects), and this is the most obvious and famous reason for the “Belt and Road” initiative, whereas the maps showed China’s roads, railways, and pipelines networks extending with partner countries, in addition to cooperation in (the field of digital technologies, educational and social institutions, and security services), which creates a network of relations that will continue in the future, in contrast to the US case or initiative.

  2) We find that while (the leaders of the seven major economic countries neglected to develop long-term strategic plans in their initiative for a better world to serve poor and developing peoples), the vision of the “Belt and Road” has been more clearly manifested through the spread of many other developmental initiatives and the other extensions with it, which include the “Silk Road” for its projects, such as: (The Health Silk Road Initiative to combat “Covid-19”, and the launch of the “Digital Silk” initiative, known as (Information Silk Road).

 3) At a time when Washington and its allies ignored the interests of developing countries, China has contributed to (leading the global development initiatives, especially the Healthy Silk Road to help countries affected by the spread of the pandemic), an initiative mentioned for the first time in the (White Book of Chinese Policy in  2015), Chinese President “Xi Jinping” announced officially the “Health Silk Road” that was presented in a 2016 speech delivered by the Chinese President in Uzbekistan, as well as the new road and the most recent Chinese initiative, known as the “Polar Silk Road”, which also known as the “Ice Silk Road”, which stretches across the “North Pole”, it was first highlighted in 2018.

 4) In the belief of China to lead global development efforts, in contrast to ignoring the “Better World Initiative”, it was represented in China’s leadership in the field of “climate and environmental governance”, so the Chinese government initiated the launch of the “Green Silk Road Fund”, which was established by Chinese investors to promote (Chinese projects that take into account environmental standards), and the latest and most advanced here is the Chinese announcement of the “Space Silk Road”, which is the development of the Chinese “Beidou” system for artificial intelligence technology, and others.

5) Here, we find that at a time when China’s desire to support and modernize all African and poor countries is increasing, the American initiative, which is alleged to be an alternative to the Chinese plan, has come to China’s interest in projects (the Chinese satellite navigation system), and it is scheduled to be used and developed China as an alternative to GPS services.

 6) The American President “Joe Biden” adopted the “Building Better for the World” project, stressing that its mainly focus on the (climate, health, digital sector, and combating social inequality), because the “Belt and Road” initiative – as stated by assistants to US President “Biden” – has transformed from a series of unauthorized projects connected to infrastructure, a cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy, and the initiative supported China with raw materials, trade links, and geopolitical influence, so the “White House” wants to engage in projects with greater environmental and labor standards than those funded by China, and with complete transparency regarding financial terms. Perhaps that point raised by Washington towards China comes without (the United States of America presenting concrete evidence of the validity of those accusations to China, as well as Washington’s failure to penetrate deep into the African continent compared to the Chinese side).

 7) American reports accuse Beijing of being (the reason for the decline of its influence on the African continent, and the United States faces many obstacles and challenges to regain its influence again in Latin American countries, which considers China as a trading partner and an important and vital investor in the African and Latin region).  For example, bilateral trade between Brazil – the largest economy in South America, and China increased from $2 billion in 2000 to $100 billion in 2020.  Perhaps this in itself (supports China’s credibility with its development projects to serve African and developing peoples, in contrast to African and Latin rejection, for example, of American influence and penetration in their countries).

8) The most important analytical thing for me is that the relationship of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” with African countries supports “the call of China and Chinese President “Xi Jinping” towards a multilateral and multipolar world”. Therefore, we find that (China’s agreement with these African countries came in their support for multipolarity in the world, which the United States rejects), while African countries and the developing world mainly welcome the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which meets the needs of economic development in their countries, which the alleged American initiative will be unable to meet.

 9) It also represents the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road (a prelude to the China-Pacific cooperation road to link China and Latin America more closely, through the 21st century Maritime Silk Road from China to Latin America, which the United States strongly opposed, which reduces travel time between them, it works on developing infrastructure and connectivity, and investing in port works and ocean corridors between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Which (made the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean consider cooperation with Beijing a huge investment opportunity and a support for economic and social development plans, as well as an improvement in the region’s competitiveness).

 10) It is worth noting that what distinguishes (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road from the American Better World Initiative, is its “sweeping popularity globally”), especially if we know that more than 100 countries have joined the Beijing initiative, which made it stronger politically and diplomatically. China signed cooperation documents on Belt and Road construction with 171 countries and regions around the world, and the trade value between China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to about 1.35 trillion dollars in 2020, accounting for 29.1 percent of the total value of China’s foreign trade which (the United States of America will be unable to provide in light of the current economic crisis, unlike China). The investment cooperation between them amounted to about $17.7 billion, and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that the companies of the “Belt and Road” countries have established 4,294 institutions in China, with an investment value of $8.27 billion.

 11) and even came (confessions by well-known American bodies of China’s developmental role in confronting the United States of America), for example, a report by the “American Council on Foreign Relations” confirmed that: “Since the launch of the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013, Chinese banks and companies have funded and the construction of power stations, railways, highways, and ports, as well as communications infrastructure, fiber-optic cables and smart cities around the world, and if the initiative continues to implement its plans, China will be able to stimulate global economic growth, and meet the needs of developing countries for the long term”.  This is an American testimony and a clear acknowledgment of the strength of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and its development projects around the world.

12) It remains to be noted here that (the American attempts to put forward alternative development initiatives for the Chinese Belt and Road is a kind of American political competition with China, so the question here is: Why did the United States not provide real development projects over the past long years), so we understand that the Belt Initiative  The road is the largest infrastructure program in the world, and indeed it has become an economic and political challenge for Washington.  Experts believe that the preoccupation of the United States with its financial and economic crises has contributed greatly to giving China the opportunity to extend its economic and development influence among the countries of the world. The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative comes among other US initiatives to try to confront and confront China, such as the Ocos Defense Security Agreement with Britain and Australia, as well as the first meeting of the “Quad Quartet” with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia. The “Biden administration” is also seeking to hold bilateral talks with countries in order to promote the American initiative, and recently talks were held with Indian Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), especially since India has refused to join the Belt and Road Initiative due to border disputes with China.  Therefore, we understand (the targeting of the United States of America to countries with conflict with China to attract them to its alternative initiative, in contrast to the openness of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to the whole world).

    Accordingly, we arrive at an important analysis that says that the term “rebuilding better in the American sense” ignores and neglects development initiatives to serve the people, a better world, which is (an American political initiative rather than a development one such as the projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative). Here it becomes clear to us that the American initiative for a better world appears to be (influenced by the slogans and policies of both US President “Joe Biden” and British Prime Minister “Boris Johnson”), Rebuilding Better is the slogan of the American campaign, but without setting specific agreed plans or a timetable for everyone.

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Russia and the United States Mapping Out Cooperation in Information Security

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Authors: Elena Zinovieva and Alexander Zinchenko*

The first committee of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution on international information security sponsored by Russia and the United States by consensus. The document has a record number of co-sponsors, with 107 countries putting their name to the document, although it is Russia and the United States that promote the document as its main sponsors. While the draft resolution still needs to go through a vote at the UN General Assembly this December, we can assume the vote will go more as less the same way it did in the committee.

The very fact that Russia and the United States came up with a joint draft resolution is a significant step forward in the bilateral cooperation in the field of international information security, especially given the fact that the United Nations hosted two competing platforms operating between 2019 and 2021, the Open‑Ended Working Group (the OEWG) established at Russia’s initiative and the Group of Governmental Experts (the GGE) led by the United States.

The joint draft resolution and a step towards an institutionalization of the dialogue came as a result of the agreements reached at the summit between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Joe Biden of the United States on June 16, 2021. Four rounds of expert consultations have already taken place under the auspices of the security councils of the two countries, says Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States.

Besides, the Russian diplomat pointed to the successes in suppressing hacker activity and combating the criminal use of ICTs. The fight against cybercrime is one the main concerns voiced by the U.S. in this area, especially after the high-profile ransomware attacks on the energy and food industries in 2021. Subsequent dialogue led to a restoration of interaction in this area, which is occurring within the framework of the 1999 bilateral agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, a document that allows the parties to exchange information on cybercriminals in pretrial detention, including in matters when it comes to collecting evidence of the person’s guilt. Cooperation between the two countries has involved the United States transferring materials for the legal suppression of the activities of such international cybergroups as Evil Corp, TrickBot and REvil. In turn, Russia has informed the American colleagues that Moscow has managed to thwart the activities of a criminal group using the Dyre/TrickBot malware and prosecute those responsible.

Additionally, there has now been greater interaction between Russian and U.S. centers for responding to computer incidents, the Federal Security Service’s National Computer Incident Response and Coordination Center (the NCIRCC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s US–CERT. However, the sides still harbor their concerns, pointing to the fact that there is room for cooperation to be fostered and enhanced. For example, most attacks on Russian infrastructure in 2020, the NCIRCC suggests, were carried out from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. By the same token, the Western media continues to level mostly unsubstantiated accusations against Russia for its supposed involvement in cyberattacks, while cyber defence activities have become overly politicized.

Meaningful interaction, once it produces positive results, facilitates an atmosphere of trust between the parties, opening the door for closer cooperation to establish a universal international regime for information security, including with respect to the issues that are more global and complex in their scope. Russia’s agenda in bilateral negotiations is not limited to combating cybercrime—Sergey Ryabkov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stressed—as it includes a broad range of issues relating to international information security, including military and political use of ICT, which is the major threat to international stability today. Moreover, since 1998, Russia has been calling for a global regulation of international interaction in information security and for rules to be formulated under the auspices of the United Nations to guide responsible behaviour of states in this area.

The dialogue and the joint work in this area have been reflected in the draft resolution, and it takes Russia’s priorities into account. Specifically, the document sets out the important principles and rules of the responsible behaviour of states in the information space, which Russia has been advocating for since 1998: encouraging the use of ICTs for peaceful purposes, preventing conflicts arising in its use, preventing the use of ICTs for terrorist and criminal purposes. The document places a particular emphasis on the importance of preventing cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure.

The draft resolution also welcomes the 2021 report adopted by the Open‑Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, making special note of how important the renewed group’s proceedings will be for 2021–2025. At the same time, the resolution suggests that the OEWG’s activities may well result in a binding UN document on international information security to be adopted.

It would seem the United States and Russia have sent a positive signal to the international community, recognizing the threats to international information security and acknowledging the importance of norms to be devised that would guide responsible behaviour of states in the information space. These norms would underpin the international regime for information security, as is envisioned by the Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on International Information Security adopted by the Russian President on April 12, 2021. The document aims to strengthen peace and international security, which are increasingly dependent on the advances in information and communications technologies. “The international community has proven in practice that it is capable of negotiating and working out acceptable solutions when it comes to resolving fundamental issues of national and international security,” noted Andrey Belousov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

First published in our partner RIAC

*Alexander Zinchenko, Ph.D. in History, Lead Expert at the Centre for International Information Security, Science and Technology Policy at MGIMO University

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