In Liberal Democrat circles, when Barack Obama is discussed, it’s generally agreed that he’s doing a grand job except for the not insignificant matter of the extra-judicial killings and the use of unmanned drone attacks.
Paddy Ashdown has expressed a different view writing in today’s Times describing drones as the most “democratic” weapon ever invented.
As a lifelong peace-loving hippy, you’d expect that I would have been the first to head Paddy’s advice:
war is a revolting practice and cannot be discussed without using revolting words. So the squeamish and those morally offended by all violence should look away now.
I didn’t, though. Partly because whether you agree with him or not, Paddy knows what he’s talking about.
On drones as a better option than some of its predecessors:
Drones are not weapons like cluster bombs — they are a delivery system. They do not, like cluster bombs, scatter themselves indiscriminately over large areas or lie there unexploded for children to step on later. The weapon they deliver is a so-called “smart” bomb that has the same purpose, effect and horrible result, wherever and however it is launched.
If this is what offends because it leads to “extra-judicial executions” (and that does indeed raise serious moral questions), then it should offend whether the weapon is launched from a drone, a nearby Special Forces team, a helicopter at 10,000ft, an aircraft at 25,000ft, a satellite at the edge of space or even nowadays with their accuracy, a submarine-launched Cruise missile from hundreds of miles away.
But what if it’s the smart bomb we don’t like?
Then we can all go back to good old indiscriminate high explosive — not “smart”, not trying to be selective (“smart” bombs do not always succeed in being selective, but they are at least an attempt at it) and of course not at all pleasant for the inadvertent innocent who, in much larger numbers, will get killed and maimed along with the intended target.
And now for the democratic bit. The use of drones, argues Paddy, gives us more accountability over military interventions than we have ever had before:
It is said that every week President Obama sits down with his advisers and personally decides how drones will be used in the week ahead. Can we imagine what that must be like for a democratically elected politician? No taking shelter behind a command chain that reaches right down to the judgment of the poor bloody soldier on the ground. This time the President is personally involved — personally accountable; perhaps even in a way that could, theoretically at least, be open to challenge before an international court of law.
And if we’re worried about infringing another country’s territory, then, he says, that sort of thing has been going on for much longer than drones have been around:
In the Borneo jungle conflict of the early 1960s I was ordered to take my unit across the Indonesian border to carry the war to “terrorists” sheltering in Indonesian territory. The operation was secret, sanctioned by the Cabinet and never came to light at the time. But if it had become public I am sure that the Government would have claimed that the action was consistent with the well-established practice of “hot pursuit” and a country’s legal right to take “self defensive” action where its security is threatened from the territory of another nation.
Basically, Paddy is arguing that drones are just another slightly more efficient way of carrying out a military intervention. I would like him to elaborate more on the issues he mentioned in passing – the principle of extra-judicial killings, for example.
You can read his whole article here (£).
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings