Administration officials recently began informal consultations with lawmakers about prospective sales of armed drones and weapons systems to NATO members Italy and Turkey, while several U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf have been pressing Washington to authorize drone sales, officials said.
The Pentagon's proposed sales have set off a behind-the-scenes debate between the administration and some members of Congress over whether the U.S. should speed the spread of a technology that will allow other countries to carry out military strikes by remote control.
"Collateral damage" is the Pentagon's rancid term for maiming and killing innocent bystanders during military operations. Depending on the source, the ratio of civilians to targeted militants killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan runs as high as 10 to 1 or as low as 1 in 5. But in addition to the moral issues behind both assassination of specified individuals that works and taking out wedding receptions by mistake, there are other matters, utilitarian rather humanitarian. What happens as drone technology spreads to other countries and they begin to use it the same way Washington has chosen to do? As well as what happens if that way includes striking U.S. or U.S.-owned targets?
The pattern is always the same. The military-industrial complex is eager for more sales than even the Pentagon and its gigantic budget will allow. So the product, say F-16 fighter-jets slightly less advanced than what America has in its own arsenal, are sold abroad. Then come the lucrative upgrades as new technology designed by friend and potential foe makes the old obsolete. They call it the arms race, but it's just as much a sales race.
The administration has already sold unarmed drones (and armed ones to its close ally, Britain). But wider sales, even solely to NATO countries, have raised some red flags in Congress. For instance:
"There are some military technologies that I believe should not be shared with other countries, regardless of how close our partnership," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. "The United States should be trying to control the proliferation of certain weapons, and I would put armed UAVs in that category."
From the viewpoint of the war profiteers and their puppet politicians, however, Feinstein's approach is nonsense. Failure to sell U.S.-made drones could send countries eager to engage in joystick warfare looking for sellers from other nations, thus costing export sales and jobs. Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Britain, Israel and India are at various stages of developing their own pursuing drone technologies.
Arming six General Atomics-built Reaper drones that Italy already owns seems it will be the test case for U.S. sales. The deal is worth $393 million. But it has received what the Journal labels a "cool" response from congressional oversight committees. One unnamed official says that if the sale to Italy goes through, "the floodgates will open." The history of weapons development and sales tells us the deluge of drones is coming.
Cause for some to rub their palms in gleeful anticipation. Reason for shivers in the rest of us.