Thursday, February 7, 2013

Modern Warfare

     Over the course of time, warfare has drastically morphed from swords and shields, to bows and arrows, to muskets and bayonets, to B-52 bombers.   Strategy in war has also evolved.  Some such as Alexander the Great to Napoleon have been thought to be geniuses in the vein of war.  The British method of fighting during the Revolutionary War would now be thought as suicide.  World War I saw the debut of chemical warfare while World War II saw dogfights in the pacific.
     Again we are seeing a new evolution of warfare.  Many Muslim extremest groups have single-handedly changed the scope of war.  The United States has been at war with Al-Qaeda for years now.  Al-Qaeda has utilized guerrilla tactics and is a very complicated enemy to combat.  One of the reasons Al-Qaeda is so difficult to combat is that they are not (officially) affiliated with a particular government.  They do not play by the traditional rules of war.  And, as in the terror attacks on September 11, they use unconventional methods to carry out their heinous acts of war.
     Al-Qaeda has recently been on the rise again and has surfaced in West Africa.  They have settled in Mali and Algeria causing problems for locals and governments worldwide.  The Washington Post created a map illustrating the shift in the terrorist organization's geographic influence.  Since the attacks of September 11, the United States has done a satisfactory job of reducing Al-Qaeda's presence in the Middle East.  However, as the map illustrates, they are resurgent in Africa.

   Courtesy The Washington Post

     The French Government has been leading the charge in Mali attempting to combat Al-Qaeda.  They have sent troops on the ground and sent fighter bombers to the region.  As Alex Perry reports in Time Magazine, the French intervention is not projected to last very long.  Their goal is to defeat rebel and extremist groups in Western Africa as well as strengthen the domestic militaries of the region.  Perry goes on to state that the Islamists related to Al-Qaeda are linked to Algerian rebel groups.  Other nations such as the United States, Britain, and Canada are hopeful France can repel the Islamists as to avoid a new permanent conflict in Western Africa.  They are offering planes and intelligence but the situation is becoming more pressing and may need more intervention.
     Along with guerrilla warfare and unconventional fighting tactics comes suicide bombings.  The most recent account of this was a suicide bombing at the United States Embassy in Turkey.  The culprit belonged to a Marxist, anti-American organization.  This recent tragedy has raised even more concern for our diplomats in the region especially after the attacks on the Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.  How can we fight against enemies whose ideals are so extreme that they are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to inflict the most collateral human damage.
       One of the issues rocking our nation this week is the topic of drones and the use of drones in carrying out attacks against Americans overseas.  Drones have been very effective in taking out high terrorist operatives but they have created controversy in the collateral deaths of countless civilians.  In this week's Time Magazine, Lev Grossman writes that the United States only had 50 drones ten years ago compared to over 7,500 today.  He quotes Peter Singer who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute who states that drones alter military tactics and strategy.  Drones have in fact altered the way territories are controlled and occupied.
     Grossman continues to write that in Pakistan drones have killed over 2,500 people.  The eye opening fact of this statistic is that we are not even at war with Pakistan.  The ACLU has also expressed its distaste for the strikes stating that they are murder and do not afford people due process of law or a fair trial.  Grossman also quotes a U.N. special rapporteur who notes that if every nation took the position of the U.S. in regards to drone strikes, there would be chaos.  High ranking White House officials such as John Brennan (CIA director nominee) and the Department of Justice has tried to justify drone strikes and the killing of Americans overseas who join or sympathize with terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda by using domestic and international law.
     The most recent developments on this front come from the release by NBC News on Monday of a Department of Justice White Paper justifying the killing of Americans overseas through drone strikes.  Now, late Wednesday night, President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to brief the House and Senate Committees on Intelligence about classified documents outlining the same issue named above.  The DOJ lists a three prong test to their justification of drone strikes: 1. An informed, high level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, 2. Capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible, and 3. the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.  One of the more complex parts of the test is the definition of an "imminent threat."  What defines an imminent threat?  Moreover, what defines a high level United States official to order and attack on these belligerents?          
     I have publicly expressed my respect for international law and state sovereignty.  However, many believe that these drone strikes violate this covenant of international relations.  The White Paper continues to justify their actions by stating " ... a lethal operation in a foreign nation would be consistent with international legal principles of sovereignty and neutrality if it were conducted, for example, with the consent of the host nation's government or after a determination that the host nation is unable or unwilling to suppress the threat posed by the individual target."  Now if the host nation is unwilling, according to the justice department, we are within our international legal right to intervene.  Furthermore, the paper outlines how we are involved with an armed conflict with Al-Qaeda and "Congress has authorized the President to use all necessary and appropriate force against those entities."  In the case of rights of American citizens cohorting with terrorist organizations, the White Paper states that they forfeit their constitutional immunities and rights afforded by the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Fourth Amendment despite the fact those rights are afforded to American citizens abroad.
     The Obama Administration has denounced torture and has taken great strides to make sure the military and the CIA do not use it in the future.  However, with the killings of high profile terrorists, it seems as if the government has justified murder and given up their rights for a fair trial.
     I am not totally opposed to the use of drones.  They have proven to be effective at keeping Americans out of harm's way.  They are a useful tool for reconnaissance and afford limited U.S casualties.  The grey area comes in when the United States government is going around "murdering" high threats.  The counter argument is that the enemies we are fighting also do not play by the rules and use questionable tactics.  However, they do not belong to a conventional army nor do they belong to a specific country (even though nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran have funded organizations such as Al-Qaeda in the past).  The fact is that there are rules and laws put in place in international realm and they need to be obeyed.  We cannot just continue to allow for civilian casualties in areas such as Afghanistan in targeting one enemy.  According to the White Paper, the President has the constitutional authority to protect our citizens.  But at what cost?  This is the conundrum.
    Al-Qaeda's rise in Africa has increased concern that they may be returning to prominence.  The DOJ states "... with respect to Al-Qa'ida leaders who are continually planning attacks, the United States is likely to have only a limited window of opportunity within which to defend Americans in a manner that has both a high likelihood of success and sufficiently reduces the probabilities of civilian casualties."  It seems as though war has evolved to guerrilla warfare by terrorists and drone strikes are the future of modern warfare.  It is difficult to say how advancements in war will continue but one thing is for sure-the key to war is affording the least amount of casualties to your side.  

1 comment:

  1. Blame for killing American citizens via drone strikes lies with a number of people. Countries that fight proxy wars are major culprits. Perhaps if these countries stop funding radical religious factions/"freedom fighters," it would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to execute acts of terror on the present global/regional scale. It costs a great deal of money to sustain a war, money that these organizations do not have without the support of some sympathetic government. The moral-ethical-legal battle over the justification of robotic killings of U.S. citizens portends to be a major factor of President Obama's legacy.