Monday, January 30, 2012

Drones over Syria?

The United Nations Security Council is set to consider a resolution on Syria tomorrow.  Secretary of State Clinton, along with the foreign ministers of France and the United Kingdom, will be present for the debate to underscore Western support for removing Bashar al-Assad from power.  Russia has indicated that it will not support the resolution being put forth by Arab states calling for Assad's removal, nor will it support harsher economic sanctions.

Amid the diplomatic backdrop in New York and a much more violent backdrop on the ground in Syria, the two co-founders of the Genocide Intervention Network are suggesting that drones be deployed over Syria to monitor human rights abuses against opponents of the regime.  Although the Syrian Air Force may be no match for Israel's, it would have little difficulty targeting drones operating in Syrian airspace.  NGOs cannot afford to replace drones that are shot down; states would generally perceive the use of drones to be military intervention, a policy option that thus far is not being seriously considered.

Even though the use of drones in Syria is unlikely, the pilotless planes, commonly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are fast becoming the preferred solution to almost every conceivable problem.  The Department of Homeland Security uses drones in the United States, most prominently for patrolling the long U.S.-Mexico border.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acquired its ninth Predator B UAV in December for border patrol duties.  Although the U.S military has exited Iraq, the State Department is operating drones to help protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and consulates in other parts of the country.  In fact, Iraqis are said to be angry about the use of American drones there.

Earlier this month the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy and digital rights watchdog group, filed suit against the federal Department of Transportation, which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), asking for information regarding the use of drones in domestic surveillance.  The FAA, according to the plaintiffs, has failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the identities of those organizations that have been certified to operate drones in U.S. airspace.