Editor’s Note: In a video interview with Need to Know on PBS, Peter Singer talks about the future of military technology and the impact that drones have had in Pakistan.
HANNAH Yi [narration]: Shuja Nawaz – a native Pakistani – is the South Asia director at the Atlantic Council in Washington — a nonpartisan foreign policy institute. He says in years past, the Pakistani government approved the American drone strikes with a wink and a nod.
But the US relationship with Pakistan deteriorated last year when it was discovered that Osama Bin Laden had been hiding out in a home just 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy – suggesting that Pakistani authorities had harbored the world’s most wanted terrorist.
A few months later, the Pakistanis were angered by a U.S.-led NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
And amidst all this acrimony, the Pakistani government, at least publicly, has now taken a more vocal position against drone attacks within its borders.
SHUJA NAWAZ: Sovereignty is now the key issue. It’s a matter of honor and respect.
PETER SINGER: The Pakistani government took the public position “how dare you violate our sovereignty” except a key critical detail they don’t talk about. They were actually flying from a Pakistani air force base. It’s kind of hard to violate your sovereignty if it’s actually flying from a base within your own country.
HANNAH Yi [narration]: Peter Singer is with the Brookings Institution – a nonpartisan public policy group. He writes about the transformation of war technology. . . and says unmanned aircraft, like drones, has enabled the U.S. to fight the war on terror without sacrificing more American lives.
PETER SINGER: It’s a game changer in the history of war and technology. To me it’s a lot like where the computer was around 1980, where the airplane was around 1916. It’s a new technology that allows the operators, the users to do things they couldn’t imagine doing just a generation earlier.
HANNAH YI: So in the past 8 years there’s been an estimated 43 al Qaeda leaders who’ve been specifically targeted and killed by drones. Would that have been possible in that 8 year time frame if it hadn’t been for the drones that the U.S. was using in Pakistan?
PETER SINGER: It’s very unlikely we would have gotten that number of leaders frankly because you would have either had to put boots on the ground in a way that the president and the people around him and congress and American public would have been comfortable with – I don’t think they would have authorized that level of intervention in Pakistan. And in turn the Pakistani government – for all its public decrying of drone strikes – allowed them, allowed them to happen in a way they wouldn’t have allowed boots on the ground or even manned bombers.
I think probably that the lesson that [Kim Jong Un is] learning is that he doesn’t have to give up anything and yet people will be scrambling for summits with him. ... The longer we have these drawn-out talks, these summits, bilaterals, trilaterals, quadrilaterals, the more it buys time for them to reinforce their claimed status [as a nuclear power] but also to continue with their R&D. But I do think that there is an element of trying to mitigate the sanctions, and also Kim took all those discussions about military strikes seriously enough to try and take the wind out of the sails. ... I find it difficult to envision how or why he would give up his nuclear weapons, which have pretty much given him what he’s wanted: which is the strategic relevance, the international prestige, and deterrence.