US should respect sovereign states while using drones: Experts

With the US using drones prolifically in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, several eminent experts have advised lawmakers against treating these nations as "combat zones".

Last Updated: Apr 29, 2010, 11:35 AM IST

Washington: With the US using drones prolifically in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, several eminent experts have advised lawmakers against treating these nations as "combat zones" and asked them to respect the sovereign rights of states while using the unmanned weapons.

The experts said that drones, though a key tool for America`s success in its war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are strictly battlefield weapons.

"Combat drones are battlefield weapons. They launch missiles and drop bombs of significant kinetic force. Such weapons are permitted on the battlefield," said Mary Ellen O`Connell, Professor, University of Notre Dame Law School, in his appearance before a Congressional Committee.

"In places like Yemen and Pakistan, where there is armed conflict going on, the United States would only have the right to use combat drones in the armed conflict that those governments are participating in, and not in some rogue operation of our own that has nothing to do with what those governments are trying to accomplish," O`Connell said.

While acknowledging that the use of drones was justified in Afghanistan, where the US is facing "an organised enemy capable of holding territory", she said such weapons should be in Yemen and Pakistan only with the consent of their governments.

"We recognise neither of those states as failed states. Indeed, we`re very much dependent on both Yemen and Pakistan having strong governments, strong identities and being stable states.”

"In order to build that stability in both countries, we need to respect their sovereign rights as defined by international law.”

"And that means that we do not have the right to use military force except with their express permission and in pursuit of their aims," she argued.

Agreed William Banks, Professor, Syracuse University College of Law, saying the host-state`s consent "is a very important ingredient".

However, Vid Glazier, Professor, Loyola Law School, disagreed with both O`Connell and Banks, and said in cases when a state was not exercising its obligations to prevent its territory from being used by militants, the unilateral use of drones could be justified.

O`Connell, meanwhile, argued that such unilateral use of drones in sovereign territories was "counterproductive”, given that America does not recognise either Pakistan or Yemen as "unable or unwilling" to take action against terrorists.

"It is against our official position... And therefore, we should not be treating them as combat zones," O`Connell said. "The only thing that Pakistan or Yemen can ask us to do in terms of carrying out battlefield killing is to join with them in their own armed conflict, try to support what they are doing," she said.

"We are not holding ourselves up to be the beacons of the rule of law. We are not sending the signal that we want to see all countries suppressing violence and promoting the rule of law," O`Connell said.

She said it was highly significant for US efforts to help support a stable and effective Pakistan, "which is ultimately going to be our protection from terrorism and lawlessness in Pakistan".

PTI