Clem Sunter

War games: The new normal

2012-06-15 09:05

Clem Sunter

One of the points that Chantell Ilbury and I repeatedly make about people who are foxes is that, like the animal, they continuously scan the environment for evidence of change. On a flight to Zurich last week to do some work in Switzerland, I was casually reading Newsweek when I came across an article that went ping in my mind - a game-changing flag had risen on the manner of war.

The article described how unmanned drones are being used to eliminate America’s enemies in countries like Pakistan and Yemen. A bounty of $5m or more is offered for information that leads to the location of individuals on the intelligence agency’s hit list. With the help of satellites ringing the Earth, the movement of these individuals is then precisely tracked and when a suitable opportunity arises,  a Hellfire missile is dispatched from the drone to destroy the house or car accommodating the individuals targeted. Thus, the leadership of organisations dedicated to the downfall of America is being whittled down.

Very scary stuff which excludes all conventional military tactics involving mass armies, navies and manned fighters and bombers in the airforce. No battle is fought and no American has to put his life at risk. The operation is handled on a computer screen by technicians. Reportedly the targets are signed off by the US President as Commander-in-Chief in consultation with Chiefs of Staff and several lawyers. A tick against a name in a faraway country signs the death warrant.

More controversially, the Newsweek article also talked of "signature strikes" where it was not absolutely proven that the individual concerned had committed crimes against America. They just had the signature of being the enemy. It is one thing to profile an individual to be searched when going through Customs; but it is quite another to profile an individual for execution. Normally, you need a courtroom, a judge and a jury to hand down the death penalty in those States that allow it in the US.

What has surprised me is a subsequent article that I read elsewhere indicating that not only Republicans but the vast majority of Democrats in America are in favour of these tactics. Indeed, the information was apparently leaked in the first place to bolster support for the incumbent in the White House in the lead-up to the presidential election in December. The White House has stoutly denied this.

Wow, there are so many moral and legal questions around this approach to war. Imagine if an unmanned drone was used to take out a suspected house and its residents in Cape Town? You might say South Africa is not at war with America but neither is Yemen or Pakistan. Moreover, potential enemies in leadership positions are everywhere - even in countries like the UK. As worrying is that enemies of America may develop the same technologies and unleash a squadron of drones on the US in retaliation. Anti-ballistic-missile-systems will not help in such a situation.

War has just taken a different turn like it did in 1945 and with 9/11. The significance is yet to be understood.

But one thing is for sure: a satellite system allows its owner to get rid of leaders without ever engaging the followers. There is nowhere to hide from the eyes in the sky.

Send your comments to Clem

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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