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The UN Wants its Own Drones?

A friend on the Hill alerted me to this story which should raise red flags for any number of reasons:

The United Nations is weighing the possibility of using unmanned airplanes (drones) in intelligence operations and to searching for information… The issue was submitted to a committee of the UN General Assembly by the peacekeeping operations department, according to the organization’s official joint spokesman, Eduardo del Buey. Del Buey said that the United Nations is analyzing the potential use of that technology, including the support that the organization needs from the member countries if its use were recommended. The unarmed drones would be used for surveillance operations and to gather information, said the spokesman, adding that no conclusions or recommendations have been made on the matter.

The Obama administration unwisely puts the UN on a pedestal on a number of issues, but hopefully will quash any request that the United States share its drones with UN peacekeepers. Putting aside the question of what mandate or authority the UN has to conduct intelligence work in the first place, any UN drone capability—even in the name of peacekeeping—could greatly undermine U.S. national security. Even innocuous missions like the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire include personnel from countries such as China, Russia, and Pakistan, each of which would like to get their hands on the latest American technology.

Providing autonomous surveillance capabilities can provoke conflict rather than prevent it. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been, for nearly 35 years, an unmitigated disaster. As Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the Israeli army handed its positions over to UNIFIL to transfer to the Lebanese army. UNIFIL chose instead to provide the posts to Hezbollah. Then, less than five months later, Hezbollah guerrillas—dressed in UNIFIL regalia—kidnapped three Israelis from the Israeli side of the border. UNIFIL personnel were conducting surveillance at the time. They videotaped Hezbollah operatives dressed in UNIFIL uniforms and driving vehicles with UNIFIL markings but, for nine months, refused to acknowledge a video that could have provided the information necessary to identify the perpetrators and rescue the Israelis. Only after the outcry grew too loud to ignore did UN Secretary General Kofi Annan order an investigation. The results were damning.

Too many UN personnel are corrupt, venial, and untrustworthy. To offer them independent surveillance capability when they have so often abused their positions would be unwise and a danger to American national security. Alas, that makes the possibility that Obama would oblige even greater.


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