America’s quest for 'Buck Rogers Death Ray' continues

As the US military becomes more confident in the effectiveness of its military gadgets, opening future wars may become more tempting with devastating long-term consequences.

Someday in the near future, soldiers will no longer have to risk life and limb booting down village doors in search of the enemy. Instead, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), “smart bombs” and mindless drones will be called in from some faraway command and control center, indiscriminately unleashing a deadly barrage of missiles at their target, before buzzing back to Camp Bravo without so much as a scratch.

In fact, it’s already happening.

Just this week, for example, Pakistani officials said “suspected” US missiles killed at least 10 “suspected” militants in the country's North Waziristan tribal region, AP reported. That's a lot of “suspected” activity for just one sentence.

The UAV attack, which hit a camp that had been formerly used as a religious school, is the eighth such missile strike in the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border zone in the last two weeks.

Since the start of the year, the US military has dramatically escalated its use of drone missile strikes in Pakistan, and this action, which occasionally leaves behind a trail of dead civilians, has sparked a backlash in the country.

The following is from an Associated Press news report, dated January 14:

“We have become used to the drone attacks, but now people are scared as they are coming every night,” said Israr Khan Dawar, a 17-year-old student in Mir Ali, a town in the militant-riddled North Waziristan region.

“More noise means they are flying lower, and that means an attack is more likely,” he added.

A UN investigator said the surge added to the need for the cloak of secrecy to be lifted from the CIA-run program, which has killed civilians as well as insurgents. Critics say the program does more harm than good because it fans anti-US sentiment and anger at Pakistan’s own government.

Indeed, once upon a war, soldiers were forced to consider how many civilians were inside of a building before it was targeted for destruction. But the new technology largely relieves soldiers of confronting this uncomfortable question.

More importantly, if civilians are found with the enemy inside a building at the time of a missile strike, then they too are considered “guilty by association,” even if the “accomplices” happen to be innocent children.

Nobody gets their hands dirty doing the dirty deed when the “trigger” is pulled far away from the strike zone. Technology doesn’t have to deal with the joyless task of washing blood off its hands, while persecuting guilty parties at some future “Nuremburg” may prove a bit tricky.

Welcome to War in the 21st Century, an information-saturated battlefield where victory hinges on knowing more about your enemy’s whereabouts than he knows about yours. In fact, if Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, were alive today, he would be disheartened to find that armies no longer strive to “know your enemy." The most they want to do is “find the enemy,” as if that was all that mattered.

Had American forces “known” its enemy better in Afghanistan, for example, it may have prevented last year’s suicide bombing at a US intelligence-gathering base in Khost, near the Pakistani border, which resulted in the death of seven CIA agents.

On December 30, Dr. Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian double-agent who duped Western intelligence for months before committing the deadliest attack against the CIA since 1983, said in a video message before his suicidal ambush that it was revenge for “our righteous martyrs.”

Al-Balawi then proceeded to recite a list of top militants killed in drone attacks in Pakistan.

Warfare from 9-to-5, dinner at 6


Predator UAV
Today, wars are increasingly white-glove “operations,” complete with sanitized “surgical strikes” that attempt to reduce the amount of “collateral damage” inflicted on the civilian population, which is never a good thing for public relations back home, as America’s Vietnam War experience adequately proved.

With lightning speed, modern warfare is being waged with a host of hi-tech military gadgets that are rapidly transforming, once again, the way armies wage war around the world.

Presently, only the advantages of such a technologically-dependent strategy are being kicked around.

Here is retired Major General Tim Haake waxing practically poetically in The Washington Times about the squeaky-clean future that awaits armies, where military officers will enjoy the luxury of having “dinner with the wife” after methodically obliterating enemy positions across the ocean.

“Imagine the land and sea equivalent of the Predator system that permits the destruction of al Qaeda leaders in North Waziristan,” Haake enthuses, “and is piloted by an Air Force major in Arizona who has dinner with the wife and children every night.”

Haake, who apparently gives little thought to the victims of the drone strikes who will not be having “dinner with the wife” that night, gives the following summary of this brave new future that happily awaits us: “Lots of technology and no US casualties… The American way of war in the future will employ the maximum use of technology while safeguarding our personnel to the greatest extent possible.”

He then rips a page from popular science fiction with this “optimistic” prediction: “The Buck Rogers Death Ray From Above will soon be a reality.”

Unfortunately, Haake’s warped fantasy too closely mirrors what US military planners may be cooking up, that is, if the prestigious Foreign Affairs political journal can be trusted.

In an article entitled “The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy” (March/April 2006), Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press argue that the United States may soon enjoy first-strike “nuclear primacy.”

“This debate may now seem like ancient history, but it is actually more relevant than ever – because the age of MAD [mutually assured destruction] is nearing an end,” the authors argue.

Now make room for this super-size-me double whopper with cheese statement: “Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike.”

Wow. With wild militaristic musings like this making the rounds, is it any wonder that Russia refuses to accept Washington on its word that its planned global missile defense system presents no threat?

“The problem is that our American partners are developing missile defenses, and we are not,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in December, after the expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

US media reported that Putin struck a “defiant tone” when he said that Russia wants the US to share detailed data about its planned missile shield under a new arms control treaty. But what is so “defiant” about simple common sense? Washington refuses to release any information about US President Barack Obama’s “revamped” global missile defense system, nor does it see the connection between the new missile defense technology and the START treaty. Who is not cooperating?

Given this glaring lack of information about so pervasive a project, other countries besides Russia should be also raising their hands and asking some tough questions.

“The issues of missile defense and offensive weapons are closely interconnected,”Putin told journalists in Vladivostok on December 30. “There could be a danger that having created an umbrella against offensive strike systems, our partners may come to feel completely safe. After the balance is broken, they will do whatever they want and grow more aggressive.”

Putin hit the nail right on the head with this comment. Once one side feels “completely safe” it will have little qualms about asserting its military will as it so desires.

The Prime Minister went on to say that Russia has no intention of developing its own missile shield [China, incidentally, announced this week that it has successfully tested its own missile defense system], but will develop new offensive weapons to offset a future US missile defense system.

“In order to preserve a balance while we aren't planning to build a missile defense of our own, as it's very expensive and its efficiency is not quite clear yet, we have to develop offensive strike systems,” he said.

Squeaky-clean warfare is here

The proponents of modern war, which the futurist writer Alvin Toffler has dubbed “third wave warfare,” argue that technological goodies will make fighting wars safer for soldiers, as well as reducing the highly undesirable collateral damage related to civilian deaths.

But will this refusal to meet the enemy eye-to-eye on terra firma backfire and instill an all-consuming desire for vengeance on the part of the technologically inferior enemy?

Furthermore, future battlefield scenarios, as attractive as they may sound, may actually help to make the decision to go to war much more tempting. After all, if warfare can be waged between 9-5 from the comfort of Arizona, with the promise of dinner with the family afterwards, how could the generals, not to mention the public, say no? But why tell the public anything? What they won’t know won’t hurt them, right?

War is by nature an unpredictable beast, but the hi-tech gadgetry of modern warfare, complete with its mathematical equations, sleek machinery and overall “sterile” nature seeks to make it predictable in every way. But the day that the outcome of war is absolutely predictable will be the very same day that war will have become extinct, because the side that can guarantee its “total success” probably won’t hesitate to unilaterally assert its full-blown power.

We have examples of this arrogance of power from the recent past.


US Marines during the "Desert Storm" (AFP Photo)
“If you can assure me total success, then you will start the war for us,” General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of Operation Desert Storm (1991), told Commander of the 1st Special Air Squadron, Colonel Gray. And with those telling words, the first Gulf War began in earnest.

The lesson that Desert Storm taught many nations of the Middle East (particularly Iran), not to mention the rest of the world (notably North Korea), was brutally simple: do everything possible to ensure that American forces remain uncertain that they will be able to achieve “total success” in any hypothetical future conflict.

Not surprisingly, by the time Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) rolled around for no apparent reason [despite the fact that UN weapons inspectors on the ground in Iraq could find no weapons of mass destruction, the reason given by the US for “preempting” an attack by Saddam Hussein, former US President George W. Bush went ahead with the order to attack Baghdad on March 20, 2003], speculation about nuclear weapons programs in other countries suddenly became front-page news, while Iran’s liberal-minded president, Mohammad Khatami, was ousted by the conservative hardliner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who continues to make “defying the West” a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

Where are we heading?

Pavel Kurachenko, a first deputy commander of the Russian Air Force’s Air Defense Forces, told a group of journalists in December that “weapons using fundamentally new physical principles” will be introduced by leading foreign countries by the year 2020.

“It is in this very period that the leading foreign countries will put fundamentally new devices and systems into service,” Kurachenko said, “including hypersonic and aerospace aircraft, reconnaissance and attack unmanned aerial vehicles, and weapons using fundamentally new physical properties.”

Kurachenko’s conclusion: “All this should enable a potential enemy to deliver high-precision strikes coordinated in time upon any spot on the globe, including any site on the Russian territory.”

Already we are witnessing the US military, especially in its battle against insurgents in Afghanistan, take large steps toward fully incorporating such technologies into its arsenal.

Speaking about unmanned vehicle attacks alone, there were 43 such drone attacks between January and October 2009, compared with just 34 in all of 2008 under America’s “war president” George W. Bush.

This is a very ominous beginning to the year 2010, especially for a nation whose leader was just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All things considered, there are some good things about America doubting “total success” in any war in the future.

After all, no nation can be trusted with the Buck Rogers Death Ray From Above.

Robert Bridge, RT