New Developments in Drone Proliferation: How Africa was Deployed to Rescue Drones

Debates on global drone proliferation tend to assume that adoption and adaptation of drones follow a universal logic and that the drone industry is a singular thing, geographically concentrated in the Global North. In this blog post I argue that these assumptions make it difficult to critically assess the growth in drone use across Africa. I suggest that one way to think about African drone proliferation is by considering the way drones and Africa are being construed as solutions to each other’s problems: drones are seen as a game changer for develop­ment and security, while in return Africa inspire new and innovative use of drones. The percep­tion of Africa as being in need of external drone intervention dovetails with the drone industry’s efforts to identify and promote good uses for drones — efforts that are central to increasing the legitimacy of drones in the eyes of a skeptical global public. Here I want to highlight three key issues related to drone proliferation in Africa.

First, that there is an unbroken link from colonial use of airpower in Africa and the legacy of technological imperialism to today’s discussion of unmanned technology and its perceived capacities. The first use of airpower in Africa occurred more than a century ago, during the Italian-Turkish War fought in Libya in 1911–1912. In their conquest of Morocco in 1912– 1914, the French used aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing. British use of airpower to enforce civil control in sub-Saharan Africa began in 1916 in British Somaliland. The use of surveillance drones in Africa initially emerged as a part of this colonial apparatus: According to Darren Oliver, the first known drone prototype developed in Africa, the Champion, was developed by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 1977 and delivered to the South African Air Force in 1978. Some of the Champions were supplied to Rhodesia for use in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle (1964– 1979), also known as the Rhodesian Bush War. Unbeknownst to almost everyone today, a fleet of South African and Israeli drones “saw extensive combat duty across the southern African theatre between 1980 and 1987, operating from Mozambique to Angola.”

Second, that drones reshape the use of force on the African continent. A central concern in the global debate on armed drones is that such drones may drive military action and lower the threshold for the use of lethal force: the scope of operations is determined by the number of designated individuals drones can target for elimination. In 2007 the first known drone strike on African soil occurred in Somalia. Today, the numbers of targeted drone killings are continuously expanding: The United States, the United Kingdom (UK), and France have bases for surveillance and combat drones in Chad, Libya, Mali, Niger, and Somalia. African militaries are also embracing surveillance and combat drones. A non-exhaustive inventory finds that more than fifteen African states have purchased drones, and at least six can manufacture their own. This includes armed drones: In 2015, the South African company Denel Dynamics introduced the Snyper, an armed version of its Seeker 400 drone. The market for Israeli military drones continues to grow across Africa. China, meanwhile, has exported five armed drones to Nigeria, to boost that country’s efforts to fight Boko Haram.

The third point worth noting is the manner in which the drone industry construes an image of “Africa” as an appropriate testing ground for development of “good” drones suited to solve the continent’s “problems”. Globally, drones have a bad name: in addition to the controversies surrounding the drone wars, drones are generally perceived as technologies that are subject to a range of risks, from pilot error to mechanical failure, cyber-attacks, and bad weather. The result is very limited access to civil airspace. Thus the drone industry has a significant unmet need to test and improve the technology by increasing flight hours and trial applications. The African continent’s lack of infrastructure — including power lines, airspace control, and commercial flights — is attractive to the drone industry: African airspace has been described as “less cluttered with flights that have slowed the adoption of commercial drones in North America and Europe.”

Africa is also a place where drones can obtain legitimacy as a “good” technology. Peacekeeping missions and wildlife conservation are examples of drone use intended to address specifically “African” problems. By allowing practices with high degrees of legitimacy — like peacekeeping and the African War on Poaching — to be juxtaposed with drone uses that, in other contexts, may be viewed as more controversial, the African context provides opportunities to strengthen the notion of drones as “good” technology.

In 2015, a UN Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping called for drones to be integrated into all UN peacekeeping missions, missions that are increasingly set to enforcing peace with military means. Of the sixteen ongoing UN peacekeeping missions, nine are located in Africa. The first mission to acquire a drone capability was MONUSCO, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nongovernmental organizations operating in and around Goma, for example, have voiced strong concerns that such peacekeeping drones are blurring the line between military and humanitarian action. This concerns the actual uses of the drones as well as community perceptions.

In the intensifying African War on Poaching, drones are currently being used to combat poaching on elephant and rhino in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. According to the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa, the massive market demand for illegal game has meant that rangers are increasingly likely to find themselves in combat situations. Conservationists might argue that drones are merely visual aids for rangers to gain an advantage over the poachers. However, when conservation is reframed as a “war on poaching”, this approach is modelled on the war on terror and relies on military-grade weapons. In 2014, in Kruger National Park, South Africa, one poacher was killed by a ranger who was acting on information provided by a drone. Using drones to monitor animals and to target poachers are qualitatively and morally different activities.

In conclusion, the ‘African drone’ has become a vehicle for the production and distribution of norms, resources, and forms of legitimacy that have implications for drone proliferation, both within and outside Africa. By contributing to further militarization and lowering the threshold for the use of force, drones transform the ways in which security operations, peacekeeping and conservation work are carried out across the continent. At the same time, by affiliating drones strongly with these types of projects, the perceptions of African and Northern audiences change with respect to the respectability and utility of drones. As academics, it is our job to try to keep track of these developments; both in the local context and in a broader pan-African perspective.

This blog was first posted over at Mats Utas blog. The post is based on Kristin Bergtora Sandviks article African Drone Stories, which was an output of the Dynamics of State Failure and Violence Project. Sandvik is the co-editor of “The Good Drone”, released by Ashgate in 2016.

Go On! IBA Conference ‘Legal Challenges to Modern Warfare,’ The Hague, 30-31 Jan. 2016

The 2016 International Bar Association (IBA) annual conference on international criminal law will focus on “Legal Challenges to Modern Warfare.” The conference will be held in The Hague on 30 and 31 January 2016.

The conference is the second in as many years organized in by the IBA’s War Crimes Committee, which is chaired by UK barristers Jonathan Grimes and Steven Kay QC. Last year’s event—titled “Legal Challenges for 2015”—introduced what has become the overarching theme for this fledgling series, and featured discussions on highly topical issues affecting the global order, such as determining what constitutes aiding and abetting in the context of Islamic State’s financing activities, and the legal aspects of ongoing conflicts in the Crimea, the Middle East and Sri Lanka. The interactive format of the panels, based on the notable BBC political talk show Question Time, spurred lively debates, and drew the audience members in to a conversation they otherwise would have simply watched as observers.

The 2016 conference promises to be just as dynamic, with the organizers adopting the same format, and the choice of a fresh set of timely subject matters. The programme includes panels on targeted missile attacks, and supporting sides in the context of regime change, both directly relevant to the ongoing Syrian conflict, which has seen aerial bombings of ostensibly military or hostile targets by foreign governments, and an unending debate on the international scene over the geo-strategic (if not moral) merits of supporting one side of the conflict over the other(s).

One important panel is scheduled to discuss the contentious topic of peacekeepers’ responsibilities and liabilities, which has caused considerable ink to be spilled not only in academic publications, but in courtrooms and the press as well. Most recently, a decision by a United States District Court, now in appeal, found that the United Nations is immune in a lawsuit filed following a cholera breakout in Haiti alleged to have been caused by its peacekeeping force. This case, coupled with galvanizing leaked reports of sexual misconduct by French peacekeeping forces in Central African Republic, could generate interesting arguments on the legal value of international organization’s privileges and immunities and their duty to provide an appropriate mode of settlement for private law matters.

Other panels will look at new methods of warfare, cyber warfare being one, and the ever-evolving ways of dealing with those who engage in them. The participants at the conference will be treated in any event to a stimulating exchange of ideas and the chance to hear, meet and exchange with some of the top experts in the field.

Online registration and the preliminary conference program are available at: http://goo.gl/tDKE3Q

Why international law matters in outer space – Part 1

Most of us don’t think about outer space when we think of international law, but the technologies that allow us to expand our exploration and use of our space environment also drive our modern global society, and international law is at the cross section.  Our daily activities, from email, phone calls and Facebook to every automatic bank transaction you make, are dependent on satellite technologies. When you take a plane, the air traffic control is dependent on GPS. Even disaster management is dependent on satellite imaging.

In this two-part blog post, I want to introduce the key aspects of why international law matters in outer space, the first part focusing on civilian and commercial activities in space, and the second on military activities.

The space environment is often described as increasingly “congested, contested and competitive“, as was reported to the UN General Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) in 2013.

Congested because there are more and more States becoming “space faring nations”, and more and more satellites are launched each year. Currently there are about 1,200 operational satellites orbiting above us, as well as half a million pieces of “space junk”, including debris from various collisions and left-over rocket pieces, but also decommissioned satellites that have run out of fuel. The film “Gravity”, for all its shortcomings, painted the scenario for us of the risks involved with space debris. Our propensity to trash our natural environment has spread out into space.

Contested because although space is big, our near-Earth environment where satellites can fall into useful orbital paths, is limited. Every space object that is launched must be registered according to the 1974 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, and in order to “claim” an orbital slot and a frequency band on which to send it’s signals back to earth, and claim a right to non-interference with that slot, satellites must be registered with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). But the most interesting orbits for internet and communications are geostationary, meaning that a satellite orbits the Earth at the same rate as the spin of the Earth, so that it looks like it’s stationary above one point. These orbits are focused around the equator, but obviously it has not been the Equatorial States who have been launching satellites over the last few decades. Since 1976 these and other developing nations have been protesting that their potential access to space is extremely limited by the over-use of limited natural resources, namely the orbital slots and radio frequencies, by a small number of Western States.

Competitive because as you may have noticed it’s no longer just States launching things into space, and attempting to outdo each other with high value technologies, there are now lots of commercial entities entering the space market. Elon Musk’s visionary SpaceX company has already shuttled supplies to the International Space Station and hopes to shuttle astronauts as well; Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic enterprise hopes to take tourists into zero-gravity; Google bought a start-up satellite company called Skybox which it intends to use to provide continuous global internet access everywhere on the planet, partly in response to the garnering success of a company called O3B (Other Three Billion), which aims to provide internet to remote and less affluent parts of the world. Telecommunications companies procure, launch and operate satellites at huge costs and with huge insurances to cover possible liability if something goes wrong. Moreover, there are entities showing interest in potential technologies like mining asteroids or the moon for precious resources, and we’re not too far off that becoming a reality.

With technologies developing so rapidly, and the so-called “democratization of space”, how does international law regulate this congested, contested and competitive environment?

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Go On! This Thurs, Feb. 26: Cardozo, Fordham Law present ‘Liberty and Security Today: A New Normal?’

 Given renewed fears of terrorism driven by the rise of ISIS and their skilled use of social media, how is the continuing conflict over security and liberty evolving? What can we expect in the future as the renewal of the Patriot Act looms and debate over authorizations for the use of force and surveillance come to the floor of Congress? Is there a new normal?  And if so, what does it mean for civil liberties and for the safety and security of Americans?

 

This Thursday, Feb. 26, from 7-8:30 pm, the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights and The Centre on National Security at Fordham Law will present “Liberty and Security Today: A New Normal?” (See event flyer here: Liberty and Security Today FINAL.) To attend, please RSVP to cardozo.clihhr@yu.edu

 

This event is free to the public and has been approved for 1.5 NYS transitional/non-transitional CLE credits in the category “Areas of Professional Practice.” To register for CLE credits, please RSVP to cardozo.clihhr@yu.edu with subject line: RSVP for CLE credits.

Pollution, brain tumors, children . . . and national security

Ionizing radiation symbol“If Al Qaeda sent a team of sleeper cells to poison our groundwater and release toxic materials into the air, people would go nuts. It would be an act of war,” Dycus notes.

“But if we do it to ourselves in the name of national security, in preparation for war, that seems to be sort of OK.”  

– My Vermont Law School colleague Steve Dycus, quoted in The Nation’s detailed story about lawsuits accusing defense contractor Pratt & Whitney of causing a brain cancer cluster among children in Florida by contaminating the area’s soil and water:
The Brain Cancer Rate for Girls in This Town Shot Up 550%—Is a Defense Contractor to Blame?

Dycus is lead author of National Security Law (Wolters Kluwer) and Counterterrorism Law (Wolters Kluwer), and author of National Defense and the Environment (Univ. Press of New England).

Arab Bank Case Sets Limited Precedent

On Monday September 22, 2014, a jury in the US District Court of Brooklyn found that the Arab Bank is liable for financing terrorism. This is the first jury trial to find a bank liable for financing terrorism under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The Arab Bank contends that the case was riddled with errors that should be rectified upon appeal before the Second Circuit. The Central Bank of Jordan has come out in support of the Bank, whose earnings constitute a quarter of the country’s stock market portfolio.

The decision, dubbed as a “trial against Hamas,” has been welcomed by some Palestine advocates. They are hopeful that this means, Israeli or US banks can be sued for facilitating the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That, however, is just not possible for two reasons. First, US federal courts have demonstrated an unwillingness to challenge Israeli policies, preferring to punt those questions to the Executive Branch instead. Second, it is a legislative invention, namely the ATA, that has made this case possible. Together, executive shielding of Israeli actions from judicial review and legislative endorsement of suits against Arab defendants, makes similar suit challenging Israel’s settlement policies very unlikely.

The U.S. federal court system has consistently invoked the political question doctrine to shield individuals connected to the Israeli government. The doctrine prevents the U.S. federal court system from adjudicating an issue that the U.S. Constitution textually commits to another branch of government. Since the Constitution commits foreign relations to the executive and legislative branches, the judicial branch may reject a claim as in-actionable by invoking the political question doctrine.

In 2005, Palestinian bystanders injured and killed during an operation intended to kill a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip brought a lawsuit under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) against Abraham Dichter, the former director of Israel’s General Security Services responsible for the operation. The plaintiffs in Matar v. Dichter, 563 F.3d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 2009) claimed that the targeted killing was extrajudicial, prohibited by the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and actionable in U.S. courts under the ATS. The Second Circuit dismissed the case for raising a political question. It characterized Dichter’s military actions as part of Israel’s foreign policy and therefore non-justiciable. The Department of State (DOS) submitted a Statement of Interest to the Court urging it to not hear the case. Israel’s Ambassador to the US at the time also submitted a letter claiming that Dichter’s actions constitute official Israeli policy. These letters had considerable influence on the panel.

In Belhas v. Ya’alon, 515 F.3d 1279, 1282 (D.C. Cir. 2008), Lebanese citizens – who were injured and killed when Israel shelled a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) compound – sued Moshe Ya’alon, head of the Israeli Army Intelligence during the time of the shelling. The DC District Court dismissed the case for being barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which prohibits suit against a foreign country in US courts.

The claims were never heard on their merits.


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Security Council Resolution 2170 against the world’s richest terrorist organization

On 15 August 2014, about a week prior to harsh criticism from the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay ( available here ) for its lack of responsiveness, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2170 in response to the terrorist activities of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) and the Al Nusrah Fron (ANF) as well as other entities associated with Al-Qaida.

This resolution imposes three main duties on all states:

1. Action against the export of terrorist fighters

2. Action against the financing of terrorism

3. Sanctions

The first action consists of four sub-duties. Firstly, the duty of all states to take national measures to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to IS, ANF and connected entities. According to existing estimates, most fighters are foreign- many from Europe, from neighbouring countries and from as far as Indonesia and Chechnya. Secondly, the resolution imposes a duty to bring such individuals to justice. Thirdly, a duty to discourage individuals who are at risk of recruitment and violent radicalization to travel to Syria and Iraq for the purposes of supporting or fighting for IS and ANF. And finally, a duty to prevent direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer to IS, ANF and other individuals and groups associated with Al-Qaida, of arms and related material, as well as assistance and training related to military activities.

The second action, imposes a duty upon all states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts, including the duty to prevent that economic resources are made available for the benefit of these groups. Since IS and ANF have control over a number of oilfields, this imposes a duty for states to refrain from engaging in energy trade with them.

The third action concerning sanctions, lists the names of six individuals on the sanctions list, and encourages that each state submits a list of individuals and entities supporting IS, ANF and similar gorups.

Combining both human and financial support, as well as direct and indirect support, the broadness of the resolution’s language makes it an effective legal tool for reducing the power of IS/ANF. But only if taken seriously, and if taken seriously by all states. Recognized as the riches terrorist organization in the world, the IS has been able to survive for as long as it has, through donations both from states and from individuals with and without connections to states. The resolution prohibits both. The exact answer to where the money comes from has been controversial and it is difficult to point to publicly accessible proofs. The Iraqi Premier Minister, Nouri al-Maliki said on 17 June 2014 that “we hold Saudi Arabia responsible” for the financial and moral support given to IS. Saudi Arabia’s close ally, the USA, rejected that accusation. However, some researchers have supported al-Maliki’s claim, and pointed not only to Saudi Arabia, but also to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates- states of which the six black listed individuals in the resolution are citizens. Another important source of funding has been oil trade, an action also prohibited under the resolution. According to a US intelligence expert, IS draws as much as $ 1 million per day in oil profit from oil well under its control, in a market where demand is high.

Despite the universal condemnation of the IS and ANF, the content of Resolution 2170 clearly indicates that a number of states and individuals have been directly or indirectly cooperating with them. Clearly, someone is buying their oil, providing them with arms and money, and actively sending or not preventing own nationals from joining them. The resolution can thus be read as placing responsibility on the world community for having allowed for the existence of and for having supported the IS/ANF. It is positive that the Security Council now has used international law to point to the responsibility and duty of all states , but it is regrettable that it has to come after a heavy human cost.