Let's face it; drones (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as the Pentagon likes to call them) are the hottest thing to hit the skies since the U.S. Army first showed interest in the Wright Brothers. With their popularity so high with just about everyone in the U.S. military (and, it seems, The White House) perhaps the Pentagon will just sack the F-22 and F-35 and order more drones. They're a whole lot cheaper, they stay in the air a whole lot longer, and pilots don't run the risk of getting shot down.
And now, the "investigative" television newsmagazine, CBS 60 Minutes has produced a cheerleading segment on drones (you can watch the entire segment below) that might as well have been produced by the public relations crew at the Defense Department. Watching the segment gave me the distinct impression that the Pentagon is trying to put the happy face on the Reaper and Predator, which have been doing both recently as they have taken out way more civilians than "terrorists" (depending on whose news you believe).
In Pakistan, where the CIA has been droning away, the "collateral damage" (according to the Pakistani government) may be as high as 50 civilians for every militant killed by a drone strike. All that for roughly "14 terrorist leaders in three years?" Do the math; it's not looking good. And if you don't believe the numbers claimed by the Pakistanis, the Times/UK quoted David Kilcullen, Condoleezza Rice's former chief counter-terrorism advisor saying that the use of drones should be stopped. "Since 2006 we've killed 14 senior al-Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period we've killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular." he said. "The current path that we are on is leading us to the loss of Pakistani Government control over its own population."
Whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, the drones are not making many (or is that "any") allies. I don't think one can underestimate the number of enemies we create for every innocent human being killed in a drone attack, what the military refers to as collateral damage. Of course, listening to the 60 Minutes story is enough to make one think that the U.S. couldn't possibly make mistakes. While showing the reporter how they killed an enemy sniper using a drone, the pilot was asked, "What if you get it wrong? " "We don't," he replied.
With drones flying in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and pilots flying them from places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the signals going back and forth are relayed by military satellites. So much for keeping space for peace, eh? Yes, the U.S. is waging war from space in a very real sense, and this is a primary reason for the U.S. military to be working so hard to maintain dominance in space.
Of course, drones are merely bit players in the arms race in space (yes, even though the weapon itself is not in space, space is an integral part of the weapons system), but represent the hubris of a nation that wants to dominate not only the land, sea and air, but also the final (or at least next) frontier - SPACE. Check out the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space where you can learn more about this issue and how you can get involved in the International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space, October 3–10, 2009. Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network also writes a worthy blog called Organizing Notes in which he offers (to quote Bruce) "his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire."
Keep Space for Peace,
References and Resources:
CBS News, 60 Minutes, Drones: America's New Air Force, May 10. 2009
The New York Times, Death From Above, Outrage From Below, Op-Ed, May 16, 2009
Times Online (UK), Concern mounts over US Predator covert killings, May 23, 2009
Website: Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Bruce Gagnon's Organizing Notes Blog post on CBS's propaganda piece on UAV's