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US military targets Africa – Interview

Friday, September 23, 2011

Laaska News  Sept. 23,2011
Kudashkina Ekaterina                 AUDIO

Photo: EPA    
Interview with Alexander Burilkov, researcher with the GIGA, Hamburg, Germany.
What could be political implications of the use of drones?

The biggest implications are that it dramatically lowers the cost of initiating a conflict, because it removes human casualties from the equation and also makes it much easier to deploy forces in an unfriendly territory. So what you are going to see from a political standpoint is that it is going to be the same argument as it was during the 1990s about firing cruise missiles instead of sending US marines, at least in the US. So it makes it more attractive to use force because it doesn’t require to actually expanding any kind of “blood and treasure,” as they say.

How efficient, do you think, this strategy has been?

It’s not so easy to say, but at least in Afghanistan and Pakistan it seems that this had some impact on the psychological level. As you can probably see, it hasn’t actually been able to impact the course of the war on a strategic level. I mean at this point NATO is talking about negotiating with the Taliban, while in Somalia and in Yemen it really hasn’t had much of an impact. It helped Ethiopian forces in Somalia to fight back against the militants but too much so. Again, it seems that this impact is rather negligible in terms of results but rather has an impact in terms of policy-making and deciding where to use force.

Does it somehow complicate the security situation on the ground?

It can, definitely. It makes it much harder to reach out to people and engage hearts and minds that are supposed to be the ground for any kind of strategy, because you have American forces who are claiming to provide security and at the same time people on the ground see these drone strikes not just on soldiers or Taliban or whatever, but often on civilians as well, because it’s really hard to actually choose targets correctly. And when you mix that with the fact that, at least in the view of American policy-makers, it’s much cheaper to deploy these, I think you are going to see a lot of ethical problems with this in the near future, as they are applied not just in Afghanistan or in Yemen but also elsewhere.

Does it somehow complicate the objective of intelligence gathering on the ground?

It is actually something that is always a problem in the American intelligence circles – their obsession with technology. So if you look at it as a question of allocating resources, it certainly will, because it is seen as an easy option, putting an eye in the sky, instead of actually engaging in intelligence gathering. At the same time, if you are talking about the kind of intelligence assets that would be people in organizations hostile to the US, which have proven to be very useful to have, these people might be less willing to cooperate and might actually be killed themselves by accident. So this is something that doesn’t make life easier. I mean it helps but it has its limits as well.

Do I get it right that it helps in a short-term perspective but it complicates things in a longer-term perspective? Is my understanding correct?

Certainly. And I think it is going to become even more controversial in the future because now they are talking about removing humans from the equation altogether, making these drones be able to errand themselves without any kind of input and actually deciding to fire the weapons on their own. So I think this is something that is going to become quite controversial, perhaps on the level of the use of land mines in the near future.

With new bases created in such places as Somalia and Yemen, do I get it right that we are now facing a prospect of the US military expansion in Africa?

I would certainly say so, and one thing that’s unique to drones is that they actually don’t require bases to be very close, because these planes are really light and cheap. They are actually made from paper and plastic rather than any kind of metals. You can deploy them maybe a thousand kilometers from where they will actually be active. So, again, in the perspective of cost, it’s much cheaper to deploy bases that field these drones rather than conventional aircraft. So, yes, I would definitely argue that you will see more US involvement in Africa through this.

Are we actually facing new generation of warfare?

I would certainly argue so. Robots like drones, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an ever increasing involvement of private military companies. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see private military companies offering drones for the highest bidder in the near future. I actually think that’s happening at the moment as well. I think it’s definitely a new type of war that is outside of state control, which has never been before.


U.S. building secret drone bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, officials say – The Washington Post
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