Drones: The First Test for Obama’s ‘Rules-Based Internationalism’

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Friday, May 28, 2010 at 8:44 am

Just as the National Security Strategy places an international order based on binding global norms at the center of President Obama’s foreign policy, a United Nations official tells Charlie Savage of The New York Times that Obama’s drone strikes ought to come to end:

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday that he would deliver a report on June 3 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that the “life and death power” of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies. He contrasted how the military and the C.I.A. responded to allegations that strikes had killed civilians by mistake.

“With the Defense Department you’ve got maybe not perfect but quite abundant accountability as demonstrated by what happens when a bombing goes wrong in Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “The whole process that follows is very open. Whereas if the C.I.A. is doing it, by definition they are not going to answer questions, not provide any information, and not do any follow-up that we know about.”

Alston stops short of calling the drones a violation of the laws of war. But that doesn’t diminish the tension between the rules-based internationalism Obama seeks and the drone strikes he considers a crucial counterterrorism tool.

Consider that the drones are a fairly cheap and unsophisticated technology. It’s only a matter of time before some other country replicates the U.S.’s move to outfit them with missiles. China, for instance, has at least seven types of unmanned aerial vehicles. Russia has at least eight. Will the Obama administration accept an assertion by China or Russia that they retain the right to launch missiles from remotely-piloted aircraft at foreign military targets in defiance of the wishes of a U.N. special rapporteur?

Follow Spencer Ackerman on Twitter


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