Technology Defense

The Flawed German Debate on Armed Drone Acquisition: “What Does This Have to Do with Our Procurement Plans, for God’s Sake?”

Image: Flickr/UK Ministry of Defense

In Germany, defence and military policy is rarely a subject of great interest to the general public. The pacifist mainstream view and the “friendly disinterest” in the Bundeswehr means that military matters are seldom discussed in detail by the general media.

Security Conflict

New Threats in Africa Mean New Questions for UN Peacekeeping: Interview with Major General Patrick Cammaert

Kitgum IDP camp from the air, Uganda
A camp of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Kitgum, Uganda.

New types of UN peacekeeping brigades could compromise the United Nations’ basic principle of impartiality and put UN personnel, their families, and other organizations at risk, said Major General Patrick Cammaert, the former military advisor to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and former Eastern Division Commander to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Cammaert said that although the UN’s first “intervention brigade” helped the Congolese army defeat the M23 rebel group in early November, “there are a lot of questions to be raised before we can say this is now the recipe for the future.”

Government Security

Drones and Drug Politics in China and Myanmar

Naw Kham Before Execution
Naw Kham before execution. Screenshot from China Central Television News video.

Burmese drug lord Naw Kham and fellow gang members Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, and Zha Xika from Laos were executed by China  on March 1, 2013 after being found guilty of killing 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in 2011.

The execution grabbed the world’s attention for two reasons. First, Chinese state-run TV networks aired the execution parade, a decision which enraged many people in Myanmar and even in China. Second, the Chinese government admitted that it considered the use of drones in 2012 to capture Naw Kham who was then hiding in a rural village in Laos. It was the first time that China publicly acknowledged that it had acquired drones.

Naw Kham’s execution triggered widespread discussion about his criminal activities. Known as the ‘Godfather of the Golden Triangle’, Naw Kham led the 100-strong Hawngleuk Militia in the Shan State border town of Tachilek in Myanmar which engaged in drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking. With Myanmar as its heartland, the notorious Golden Triangle in mainland Southeast Asia is the world’s second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan.

International Relations Security Foreign policy

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.

International Relations Security

The Secret War in Yemen

Predator UAV
Predator UAV. Photo: Marion Doss/flickr.

As the United States enters the twelfth year of the War on Terror, the counterterrorism effort has challenged the premises of international law. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) armed with Hellfire missiles with targeting capabilities have replaced special forces and manned aircraft as the U.S. tactic of choice against militants. According to the American Security Project, the U.S. military operates UAVs in declared combat zones—Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya—while the CIA operates covert UAV programs in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.  These programs raise concerns about oversight, international human rights, and international laws governing warfare. If the White House doesn’t address concerns regarding the most recent UAV attacks in Yemen, the U.S. risks setting a dangerous precedent for UAV warfare worldwide.

The Long War Journal estimates that the U.S. has carried out three times as many strikes this year as it has in previous years against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  The increase of covert UAV activity in Yemen raises many important questions: How are the targets decided? Who authorizes the strikes? Are the strikes legal?

John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, argued that UAV warfare is legally justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter and militarily advantageous because it is low cost and limits casualties on both sides. He argues that capturing insurgents is impossible due to AQAP’s asymmetric tactics and Yemen’s difficult terrain. The U.S. military contends that UAV warfare is a moral necessity. UAVs are more precise and efficient than military alternatives like bombs, air strikes and ground troops.  In April John Brennan stated: “there is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.”