Neocolonial Air Power:
The Kunduz Crime
The NATO air attack in Kunduz is a dual tragedy. Innocent lives were lost and 'Doctors Without Borders' has withdrawn from a country in need of medical support. But in the wake of this tragedy it is useful to reflect on the use of air power today.
During the colonial period Western nations built empires by occupying less developed countries. The popular consensus today is that the practice was egregious and exploitative. Furthermore, most people believe that the wave of independence that began following WWII was a positive trend, even if the full potential of independence has not been realized.
You might ask what connects these two observations? Just this: Western nations and alliances have not ceased intervening in the political affairs of smaller, less developed countries throughout the world. Usually this intervention is managed through economic leverage; hence, the term neocolonialism. Occasionally however, and all too often, western powers revert to the use of military force. Herein lies the connection, but with a new twist.
Today when the US, the U.K. or France employs military force to impose political solutions, they rely overwhelmingly on air power. The reason behind this preference in favor of air power is clear. There is little support within the American electorate for placing ground troops in harm's way. Political and military leaders, however, assure us that modern technology permits precision strikes with limited 'collateral' damage.
Obviously the strike on a hospital in Kunduz refutes the technology claim. But the more damning conclusion remains obscured. What right does the US or any other super power have to intervene militarily in foreign, sovereign countries?
The case of Syria is a perfect example. US leaders have been insisting for several years that President Assad must leave. They say he has used violence against his own people. Yes, the civil war in Syria is deplorable. But how does that empower the US to decide the political fate of Syria or Libya or any other country? And when the US or NATO send their air forces in bombing raids against targets within Syria or Afghanistan how does the situation differ? The simple fact is that they are using military power to impose a political outcome. And they are using such power not within their own sovereign territory, but rather against a foreign people.
During the colonial period western nations occupied colonies. They controlled the police and imposed peace on the ground. Popular opinion rejects the practices of that historical period, because the colonies were denied their political rights. And furthermore we recognize that the economic policies implemented by colonial powers were generally in their own interests and not the interest of the indigenous population. Yet today public opinion is far too complacent about military intervention across the world, as long as 'our casualties' are few.
Clearly we need to deepen our analysis. The dots are not difficult to connect. Should sovereign nations around the world be free and independent to chart their own political and economic course? Yes! Should it be permissible for major powers to pressure smaller, independent nations to recognize and accede to demands that cater to those major powers' national interests? No! No nation should have such extended power. In fact the concept of overseas national interests is blatantly contradictory. All transactions beyond national borders should only, must only, be matters for negotiation on equal terms. Any balance to the contrary evidently smacks of neocolonialism.
Was the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz a war crime? There is no need for an inquiry. The US has been an occupying power in Afghanistan for over a decade. If President Assad is guilty of war crimes against his own people, then President Obama is guilty of war crimes against the Afghan people.