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Offshore Everywhere: The Plan to End National Sovereignty as We Know It
Posted on Feb 5, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt
All the elements of this emerging formula for retaining planetary dominance have received plenty of publicity, but the degree to which they combine to assault traditional concepts of national sovereignty has been given little attention.
Since November 2002, when a Hellfire missile from a CIA-operated Predator drone turned a car with six alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen into ash, robotic aircraft have led the way in this border-crossing, air-space penetrating assault. The United States now has drone bases across the planet, 60 at last count. Increasingly, the long-range reach of its drone program means that those robotic planes can penetrate just about any nation’s air space. It matters little whether that country houses them itself. Take Pakistan, which just forced the CIA to remove its drones from Shamsi Air Base. Nonetheless, CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands continue, assumedly from bases in Afghanistan, and recently President Obama offered a full-throated public defense of them. (That there have been fewer of them lately has been a political decision of the Obama administration, not of the Pakistanis.)
Drones themselves are distinctly fallible, crash-prone machines. (Just last week, for instance, an advanced Israeli drone capable of hitting Iran went down on a test flight, a surveillance drone—assumedly American—crashed in a Somali refugee camp, and a report surfaced that some U.S. drones in Afghanistan can’t fly in that country’s summer heat.) Still, they are, relatively speaking, cheap to produce. They can fly long distances across almost any border with no danger whatsoever to their human pilots and are capable of staying aloft for extended periods of time. They allow for surveillance and strikes anywhere. By their nature, they are border-busting creatures. It’s no mistake then that they are winners in the latest Pentagon budgeting battles or, as a headline at Wired’s Danger Room blog summed matters up, “Humans Lose, Robots Win in New Defense Budget.”
And keep in mind that when drones are capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carrier decks, they will quite literally be offshore with respect to all borders, but capable of crossing any. (The Navy’s latest plans include a future drone that will land itself on those decks without a human pilot at any controls.)
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Already American drones regularly cross borders with mayhem in mind in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Because of a drone that crashed in Iran, we know that they have also been flying surveillance missions in that country’s airspace as—for the State Department—they are in Iraq. Washington is undoubtedly planning for far more of the same.
American War Enters the Shadows
Along with those skies filled with increasing numbers of drones goes a rise in U.S. special operations forces. They, too, are almost by definition boundary-busting outfits. Once upon a time, an American president had his own “private army”—the CIA. Now, in a sense, he has his own private military. Formerly modest-sized units of elite special operations forces have grown into a force of 60,000, a secret military cocooned in the military, which is slated for further expansion. According to Nick Turse, in 2011 special operations units were in 120 nations, almost two-thirds of the countries on Earth.
By their nature, special operations forces work in the shadows: as hunter-killer teams, night raiders, and border-crossers. They function in close conjunction with drones and, as the regular Army slowly withdraws from its giant garrisons in places like Europe, they are preparing to operate in a new world of stripped-down bases called “lily pads”—think frogs jumping across a pond to their prey. No longer will the Pentagon be building American towns with all the amenities of home, but forward-deployed, minimalist outposts near likely global hotspots, like Camp Lemonnier in the North African nation of Djibouti.
Increasingly, American war itself will enter those shadows, where crossings of every sort of border, domestic as well as foreign, are likely to take place with little accountability to anyone, except the president and the national security complex.
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