UAVs – Heavy Footprints on ‘Light Footprint’ Wars

Predator drone
Predator drone. Photo: Doctress Neutopia/flickr.

Successive US administrations have regarded unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as among the most effective tools for fighting the ‘war on terror’. John Brennan – Barak Obama’s pick for the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – has stated that UAVs are surgically precise weapons that allow the United States to undertake the ‘targeted killing’ of terrorists. Collateral damage, in terms of the lives of civilians and pilots, is minimized, with UAVs also thought to be cheaper to purchase per unit than fighter aircraft. If so, then UAVs may eventually replace aircraft as the mainstay of the United States’ Air Force.

UAVs have, therefore, become an essential feature of the United States’ vision of lighter and more technologically advanced armed forces capable of conducting light-footprint warfare. This places far less emphasis on fighting land wars and more on the use of UAVs, special-forces, private contractors and local partners to target a diffused and dispersed network of enemies. As part of its commitment to light-footprint warfare, Washington has been working to establish a network of small airbases in Africa to track extremist groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Shabaab, and hunt down alleged war criminals like Jospeh Kony.

Using Passports to Construct Enemies?

Russian passport
Russian passport. Photo: paukrus/flickr.

Two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union, tensions between Russia and its neighbors remain. Over the past twenty years or so, the former Soviet space has experienced, among others, border disputes and controversies over army exercises, military bases and oil supply routes. However, underlying issues like the withholding of citizenship rights remain largely unnoticed and, as a consequence, unaddressed.

The Usual Suspect?

Russia is widely regarded as the main culprit behind tensions with its neighbors and controversies surrounding citizenship issues. Scott Littlefield has argued that Russian passports and citizenship have facilitated Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatism in Georgia and served Russian ‘geo-strategic gains’. Some authors have even argued that Russia has ‘weaponized’ citizenship by combining its right to grant citizenship with its sovereign ‘right’ or ‘duty’ to protect its citizens at home and abroad. In light of the growing mobility of citizens, and Russia’s continued policy of conferring its nationality extraterritorially, such as in Transnistria and Crimea, this could spur similar secessionist feelings elsewhere.

Yet Russia is not the only state responsible for such behavior. Georgia has also been accused of using the 2008 conflict to discredit Russia internationally, thereby turning the war into a battle between ‘east and west’. However, Tbilisi was nevertheless responsible for fanning the flames of conflict by marching its military into its northern regions, thus violating agreements between Abkhazians, South Ossetians and the Georgian government. Russia perhaps overplayed its ‘responsibility to protect’ card by marching its army into Georgia, however concerns that ‘its’ Russian passport holding citizens were in need of protection appeared reasonable.

China’s Peaceful Return to Africa?

Chinese Engineers Join Peacekeeping Force in Darfur
Photo: United Nations Photo/flickr

During the 2006 China-Africa summit, which convened officials from 48 African countries, the Chinese government handed out billions of dollars in investment for infrastructure projects and loans, under the banner of “the common pursuit of friendship, peace, cooperation and development” . A year later, the EU tried to copy this language at their EU-Africa summit, held in Lisbon. Much like the ISN’s pro-con discussion last week on foreign investment in Africa, they pointed to the dangers as well as the opportunities in China’s increased engagement with Africa, and pointed fingers at Zimbabwe for violating Human Rights. African leaders were not impressed. They emphasized the colonial past, did not appreciate the finger pointing, and did not find what little investment the EU had to offer very convincing in comparison to China’s hand-outs the year before. The positions of African governments, however, have changed since then. It will be interesting to see how China reacts.

China’s earlier encounters with Africa were quite positive from an African point of view. Under Mao, China gave technical assistance, health care support and started education programs in order to strengthen African societies so that they could revolt against their oppressors and become communist states. China also re-affirmed its commitment to a ‘peaceful rise’ and to its five principles of foreign engagement which included non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, equality and mutual benefit. Hence the warm African welcome when China returned to the stage in the 1990s.

Development on its Head: the World Global Footprint

Economic development is generally measured by a country’s GDP. However, this hardly tells the whole story. While some countries might be very prosperous now, their future looks a lot different when the sustainability of their development path is taken into account. In the light of this week’s editorial plan topic Development: Describing and Prescribing Progress, this blog will introduce the ‘ecological footprint’ as a means to quantify the consequences of specific development paths.

Global Footprint Network, Creditor/Debtor Map 2007, from 2010 NFA,

The Ecological Footprint is an accounting metric which assesses humanity’s pressure on natural resources. It establishes how much land and water area a human population requires, to produce the resource it consumes and how much of the regenerative capacity of our planet we use to absorb emissions. Together with the measure of biocapacity, which tracks how much natural productive capacity is available to meet our demands, an ecological balance sheet for the world can be established. If the global ecological footprint is larger than global biocapacity, it means that humanity is using more than can be regenerated, and processed by the biosphere.

Financialization: When Money Took Over

Bankers walking into the City of London, one of the symbols of financialization. Image: Chris Brown/flickr

Money was invented to facilitate economic transactions and thus serve the real economy. Over the past 30 years or so, this relationship has been reversed: the real economy now appears to serve financial markets with financial crises bringing down economies. “Financialization” is the term experts use to describe this phenomenon.

As part of our Editorial Plan’s focus on international economics and finance, yesterday we described the history of the international monetary system.  On Monday the ISN speculated that the growing importance of foreign direct investment and global  financial markets makes the most recent wave of globalization the most impressive. What follows is a critical analysis of the evolution of financialization, which has pernicious side-effects that remain difficult to resolve.