Drones and the EU’s conscience

Published: March 3, 2014
The writer is Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

The writer is Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

On February 17, the European Parliament massively voted against the use of drones. An overwhelming majority of MEPs — 534 to 49 — vehemently supported a resolution that demanded European Union (EU) member states not to “perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states” and called on them to “oppose and ban practices of extrajudicial targeted killings”. Most human rights activists and anti-drone campaigners called the thumping anti-drone European Parliament resolution as a ‘triumph of conscience’.

The MEPs have issued a clear call to national European governments to come clean on their complicity with the CIA’s illegal drones programme. This should be a wake-up call to countries like the UK and Germany, Kat Craig, the legal director of Reprieve, an NGO that campaigns against extrajudicial killings and death penalty. The European Parliament’s resolution is, in fact, the first near unanimous rejection of the US administration’s unilateral militarism and geo-political exceptionalism — exemplified by the deployment of armed unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Drone strikes by a state on the territory of another state without the consent of the latter constitute a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country,” the resolution said.

The chair of the Parliament’s sub-committee on human rights, Barbara Lochbihler, said that, “MEPs have delivered a strong rebuke to the practice of targeted aerial killings outside a declared war zone, as well as the use of armed drones in war situations outside of the international legal framework.”

This vote came on the heels of a UN report published on December 18, 2013, which had spoken out against the drone campaign in foreign territories. The resolution to this effect underlined the culmination of an inquiry that Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson had launched in Pakistan and Africa a year ago. The Euro vote against drones not only represents the culmination of a long-drawn international campaign against the use of drones in Pakistan, in particular, but also resonates with the Pakistani perspective, which was one of helpless protest.

Although officially played down in Washington, during 2014, until late February, the CIA has not carried out any drone strike on targets inside Pakistan. This suggests that the Obama Administration possibly took cognisance of the resentment that the drones have caused inside Pakistan. The frequency of attacks has declined since the peak in 2010, but still there was, on average, a strike every two weeks in 2013, according to TheBureauInvestigates.com.

Bitter trappings of realpolitik demand caution; while the EU resolution marks a historic verdict on American unilateral militarism and is indeed a moral victory, yet it will certainly not deter the CIA from sending in armed drones when it wants to. What we, therefore, need to do is to address the root causes that prompt outsiders to arm-twist and coerce Pakistan. The US deployed drones because Pakistan under General (retd) Pervez Musharraf declared Waziristan “beyond our capacity region”.

The EU member states — rooted in democratic traditions and liberal cultural values — have taken up a supportive position on a weapon that has caused divisions within our society. The EU, or other external players, can help only this far. It is now incumbent upon our state institutions to sincerely address, if not entirely remove, reservations of several EU and other countries on some of the pressing structural problems that are not only a source of discomfort to them, but are also a creeping threat to Pakistan itself.

Anatol Lieven warns of the same: “For a long time to come, therefore, irrespective of what happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan will face its own Islamist insurgency, not only in Fata and K-P, but increasingly in Karachi too. And irrespective of what happens in Afghanistan, Pakistanis will need to fight against this insurgency if they wish their country to survive, let alone prosper.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • unbelievable
    Mar 4, 2014 - 5:28AM

    Last time I looked not one European Head of State had openly opposed the use of drones in Pakistan.


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