Voice

Breaking: Ban Ki-moon Says Nothing New About Drones

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon apparently won applause in Pakistan for his remarks on drones. Several media outlets are running stories suggesting that he opposed all use of armed drones. But what did Ban say exactly? According to this UN account, not much that's newsworthy:

The Secretary-General said the UN is also working to rise to these challenges, including through the use of new technologies to help in better implementing its mandates and to provide better security for its troops.

“Let me be clear that these new tools, such as unmanned unarmed aerial vehicles, are for information purposes only. They are essentially flying cameras,” he stated.

“But armed unmanned aerial vehicles are a different matter,” he continued. “As I have often and consistently said, the use of armed drones, like any other weapon, should be subject to long-standing rules of international law, including international humanitarian law.

“This is the very clear position of the United Nations. Every effort should be made to avoid mistakes and civilian casualties.”

To recap: the UN Secretary General informed his audience 1) that the UN will be deploying drones only for reconnaissance purposes; and 2) that countries using armed drones must do so in accordance with international law.    

The Multilateralist

The Missing Human Rights Question in Syria

The debate about humanitarian intervention in Syria has fallen into an almost sing-song pattern of response and rebuttal. Interventionists point to the mounting death toll, now more than 100,000 according to the United Nations. They highlight the strong evidence that government and government-allied forces are responsible for many of the war's worst atrocities. They worry about the possibility of an even more intense bloodbath should Assad's forces ultimately prevail.

Those skeptical of intervention on humanitarian grounds have ready responses. The rebels that most interventionists want to back have committed their own share of atrocities. Bombing or sending in more weapons, many skeptics point out,  is a counterintuitive method of stopping bloodshed and may only intensify the conflict. 

There's one question that is usually skimmed over in the debate: the choice between continued Assad control and the regime's defeat is fundamentally a choice between majority and minority rule. Assad's strength is Syria's Alawite population and a relatively small collection of other groups and cross-sections of society. The rebels, in turn, can claim to represent the bulk of the country's majority Sunni population.

Abstracting for a moment from potential intervention tactics and the relative moral worth of the combatants, the choice between majority and minority rule seems highly relevant to the question of whether intervention makes sense from a humanitarian and human-rights perspective. In Kosovo, the international community faced a similar set of questions in terms of the Kosovo Liberation Army. How clean were its hands? What kind of society would it create? The answers, so far as I can tell, are:  1) not very; and 2) fairly kleptocratic.

But I've always thought that it was a better, more stable, and more just outcome to have a society run by the 90 percent than by the 10 percent. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, you've at least reduced the number of systemically oppressed people by 80 percent. The question of whether majority-run societies are better in terms of human outcomes is obviously a complicated empirical one. And you don't have to search hard for examples of brutal, even genocidal, majority-led societies. But I think the question of whether there's a human-rights stake in the majority prevailing in Syria deserves much more attention than it's getting.