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Europeans More Worried About US Drones Than About Spying

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Following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US bugging and spying on European embassies and harvesting foreign e-mails, relations between Europe and the US are fragile, to say the least.

However, as much as Europe has a renewed sense of paranoia that their online activities and phone calls are being monitored by their transatlantic neighbors, apparently it’s not surveillance and data protection that Europeans are primarily worried about.

According to a new report, it’s America’s use of armed drones that is causing the most concern to Europeans and heightening transatlantic tension.

Anthony Dworkin, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote about Europe’s stance on US drones in a CNN blog. According to Dworkin, it is America’s use of armed drones to kill terrorist suspects away from the battlefield that is producing the most complications for relations between Europe and the US. (1)

Dworkin talks of how European governments have shown a “curiously passive approach to America’s drone strikes”. The report goes on to state that many Europeans view that such strikes are unlawful but their governments have maintained an “uneasy silence on the issue”.

Violating European Law?

Why would Europe be so silent against something they oppose? Dworkin says the answer to this question is threefold.

–> First, Europe is reluctant to accuse a close ally of violating European law.

–> Second, many European countries are trying to acquire armed drones themselves.

–> Third, Europe is aware of how quickly drones are proliferating and it is therefore within Europe’s interest to try to establish some restrictive standards on drones before it is too late.

It is the third point that Dworkin implies is augmenting conflict between US and European relations.

“As Europeans begin to articulate their policy on the use of drones, a bigger question looms. Can Europe and the United States come together and agree on when drone strikes are impossible?” asks Anthony Dworkin. (1)

In his presidential campaign in 2008, Obama was unsparing in his condemnation of President Bush’s anti-terrorism policies.

However, the use of drones has increased sevenfold under President Obama and drones have become somewhat of a staple of Obama’s power. Talking about the resentment drones create, General Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan told Reuters:

“The resentment created by drone strikes is much greater than the average American appreciates. Drones add to the perception of American arrogance that says, ‘We can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.” (2)

Hostility towards drones was deepened last month when the biggest drone attack of the year killed at least 17 people in Pakistan. Two US drone missiles hit a house in Miranshah, a region that is considered a Taliban stronghold. Most of those killed were fighters for the Haqqani network, as stated by a Reuters’ report. (3)

The report instigated a string of comments, most of which focused on the immorality and deception of drone attacks. As one reader posted:

“The drones only kill militants. We know that, because the news stories say it’s true… so it must be true, right? After all, the information comes straight from the government and they wouldn’t lie about a little thing like killing the wrong people, would they?” (3)

drone plane at sunset

Setting Standards

Setting standards for striker drones is likely to intensify transatlantic unease. There is, however, several discrepancies to the CNN report.

Anthony Dworkin provides no evidence which can back up his somewhat sweeping statement that the majority of these strikes are unlawful. The title of the article, “Actually, drones worry Europe more than spying”, is a little presumptuous and lacking in evidence.

The comments to this article seem to provide us with greater weight to the conjecture that Europeans deeply condemn drone attacks than the article itself. Whether or not Europeans are more worried about US drones than spying is ambiguous to measure and difficult to judge.

Snowden’s revelations about the extent of NSA’s data-monitoring program generated huge uproar, condemnation and debate in Europe. The reaction was particularly fierce in Germany, where more than 500 million communications are allegedly monitored by NSA each month. Jakon Augstein, one of Germany’s most prominent journalists wrote:

“The US has massively and systematically violated the civil rights of people who have no possibility of voting against the practice in elections.

“We stop being citizens and turn into subjects,” Augstein continued, adding that he felt “the uncomfortable feeling of powerlessness one gets in surreal dreams.” (4)

Martin Schultz, president of the European Parliament, admitted that he was “deeply worried and shocked” by the NSA spying revelations. (4)

As the myriad of antagonistic comments responding to reports about US drone attacks such as the one that killed 17 people in Pakistan last month testify, Europeans are certainly worried about drones and their proliferating numbers.

According to Anthony Dworkin, this apprehension is derived from the fact that European governments realize that they will have to have some influence in setting the standards for drone attacks. While such concerns are clearly real and poignant, are Europeans really more worried about drones than NSA spying?

References & Image Credits:
(1) Global Public Square CNN Blog
(2) Bloomberg
(3) Reuters
(4) UPI
(5) Swamibu via photopin cc
(6) via photopin cc

Originally published on

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