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Obama's plan: less troops, more fire from the skies

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Are drones creating a new global arms race?



They are difficult to detect, deadly and cheap to build. Despite the dubious legality of assassinating suspected terrorists and Taliban without a trial, the market for drones is heating up around the world. With Israel and China moving into the market, are we about to see a new arms race?

The US is carrying out drone strikes ever more frequently. Vice President Joe Biden, especially, has been an effective advocate for the weapons. It was Biden who urged his boss to end the war in Afghanistan and instead to combat the Taliban with drone strikes on their hideouts in Pakistan. Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama now sends out a missile-equipped drone an average of once every four days, while his predecessor, George W. Bush, did so only once every 47 days. Obama, it seems, has taken a liking to remote-controlled war, which delivers faster results and is less complicated than wrangling with Guantanamo.

The American fleet now stands at 230 drones. The Air Force trains more pilots for drone operations than for fighter jets, and last month acknowledged the existence of previously classified drone bases in Ethiopia, the Seychelles and Djibouti.

American manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman and General Atomics would like to start marketing their products to the rest of the world, and their representatives serve as cheerleaders urging more and more new drones. "Countries have an insatiable appetite for drones," James Pitts, from defense contracting giant Northrop, told the Financial Times. Northrop representatives recently visited Japan, bringing along a 1:1 model of the enormous "Global Hawk" drone. The same drone, under the name " Euro Hawk" will soon be stationed with the Bundeswehr, Germany's Armed Forces, at its air base in Jagel in northern Germany.

A United Nations report lists over 40 countries that have bought remote-controlled aircraft, although most of these are used for aerial reconnaissance, the original purpose for which drones were designed. So far the only countries to carry out drone strikes, besides the US, are Israel and Great Britain.

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