May 23, 2013
As drone monopoly frays, Obama seeks global rules
President Barack Obama, who vastly expanded US drone strikes against terrorism suspects overseas under the cloak of secrecy, is now openly seeking to influence global guidelines for their use as China and other countries pursue their own drone programs.
The United States was the first to use unmanned aircraft fitted with missiles to kill militant suspects in the years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
But other countries are catching up. China's interest in unmanned aerial vehicles was displayed in November at an air show . According to state-run newspaper Global Times, China had considered conducting its first drone strike to kill a suspect in the 2011 murder of 13 Chinese sailors, but authorities decided they wanted the man alive so they could put him on trial.
"People say what's going to happen when the Chinese and the Russians get this technology? The president is well aware of those concerns and wants to set the standard for the international community on these tools," said Tommy Vietor, until earlier this month a White House spokesman.
As U.S. ground wars end - over in Iraq, drawing to a close in Afghanistan - surgical counterterrorism targeting has become "the new normal," Vietor said.
Amid a debate within the U.S. government, it is not yet clear what new standards governing targeted killings and drone strikes the White House will develop for U.S. operations or propose for global rules of the road.
Obama's new position is not without irony. The White House kept details of drone operations - which remain largely classified - out of public view for years when the U.S. monopoly was airtight.
That stance is just now beginning to change, in part under pressure from growing public and Congressional discomfort with the drone program. U.S. lawmakers have demanded to see White House legal justifications for targeting U.S. citizens abroad, and to know whether Obama thinks he has the authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
On Friday, a three-judge federal appeals court panel unanimously ruled that the CIA gave an inadequate response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking records about drone strikes. The CIA had said it could neither confirm nor deny whether it had drone records because of security concerns.
The judge who wrote the ruling noted that the president had publicly acknowledged that the United States uses drone strikes against al Qaeda.