Snowden and the World’s No-fly Zones

It took three weeks, till a high-ranked official of the United Nations, the commissary of human rights, Navi Pillay, made a commentary on the flight of Edward Snowden and his long-term seeking for asylum. She noticed publically that systematic violation of international law and human rights, how it was and persistently still is done by the USA in surveying and controlling most of the world’s communication, could not be accepted as a pretext to persecute the messenger of these crimes. The whistleblower Snowden should be protected, not prosecuted, she said.

Contrary to this UN-statement, published in accordance with international law and human rights, US-President Barack Obama insists on the priority of US-law over international law. This is certainly not the first time. And it even would not be worth to grow very furious on it, because there are many other countries acting in a similar way. What makes the Snowden-case different and threatening for future peaceful international relations is the fact that the USA put pressure on every state, acting against Washington’s logic of so-called security-measures. The systematic surveillance of communication by NSA serves this aim. When ex-collaborator Snowden uncovered these practices and denounced the US-spying system as a huge network of Google, Facebook and Microsoft under guidance of NSA, he was declared state-enemy. US-hunt on him could start. The airspace became the prefered hunting-ground. Since then Washington has tried to exercise as much control as possible over the worldwide airspace to catch its declared public enemy. The only movement Edward Snowden could do without problem in the three weeks after his first interview to the British «Guardian» in Hong Kong was from China to Russia. The US evidently had no means to interrupt this trip. For weeks, the transit zone of Sheremetjewo airport became Snowden’s home. Isolated like the founder of Wikileaks Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Snowden is stuck within a few square meters. Multiple applications for asylum to Ecuador, Nicaragua or Venezuela failed because a save transport from Russia to Latin America could not be guaranteed. The lack of free airspace turned into a real obstacle. Washington directly or indirectly worked behind the scene to close as much airspace as possible for its currently most hated citizen.

One special outcome of this policy was seen clearly on the 3rd of July 2013, when the presidential aircraft of Bolivia with Evo Morales and his minister of defence, Ruben Saavedra, on board faced a dangerous situation near France. Just minutes before entering the French airspace, Paris refused the right to cross the border; Portugal, Italy and Spain followed the example that constituted an international precedent. Morales’ aircraft, coming from a conference in Moscow, had to turn around and made a forced landing in Vienna. The formal neutrality of Austria constitutes the difference to the NATO-membership of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. US-pressure, for sure, could have also reached Vienna, but obviously the chain of command was not as strict and quick than between Washington and Paris.

Bolivia's presidential jet forcedly landed in Vienna airport, July 3, 2013.
Bolivia’s presidential jet forcedly landed in Vienna airport, July 3, 2013.

There were no official reasons given for breaking the international taboo to bring down a presidential machine from heaven. Media speculated about the reason: Washington supposed Edward Snowden to be on board of the Bolivian aircraft. It took Evo Morales 13 hours to get the permission for crossing Spanish airspace to fly home to Bolivia. He used his stay in Vienna airport to explain the humiliating US-action against him as «colonialist attitude». Austrian president Heinz Fischer, an old social democrat, helped him by organizing a press conference in the early morning. Headlines like «we condemn the hostile act of the USA misusing European countries» or «we are kidnapped by imperialisms» found their way to medias around the world. Ten days later Evo Morales thanked Heinz Fischer for having saved his life by allowing the landing of the machine.

 «No-fly-zone» as an imperialist strategy

 Since the Convention on International Civil Aviation of 1944, ratified in 1947, every state is granted complete sovereignty above its territory. The airspace is part of it. State-machines like the Bolivian presidential one, in contrast to commercial flights, have to ask before every crossing. Normally this is routine. The scandal of the French refusal to the entrance of the Bolivian jet to French airspace is a (geo)political, not a legal one. Morales did not represent any threat for France, Italy or Spain, no dangerous materials were presumed to be on board, even no international warrant of arrest was delivered for the supposed Snowden on board. What made the disruption of Morales’ flight even more scandalous: France (or the other NATO-member-states) had no legal basis to look for the whistleblower, Snowden did not violate any French (or Italian, Spanish, Portuguese) law. The authorities in Paris acted as US-servants with no proper interest. Their refusal spread deep mistrust to a third party, to the Bolivian side. Because Morales is known as a critic of the American policy, he was suspicious to help someone who is hunted by the United States – someone who is not searched for in Paris. Put like this, the whole scenario appears totally bizarre. But it is not. It fits very well into Washington’s phantasy of global omnipotence: putting pressure on allies, humiliating a non-loved head of state, and thereby extending the mistrust against the Russian airport authorities, who possibly did not hinder Snowden to leave Sheremetjewo. The message of the USA could not be clearer, stating: the world, including the airspace, is under our control.

An artist's concept of Strategic Defense Initiative.
An artist’s concept of Strategic Defense Initiative.

In some ways, the history of the last 30 years seems to prove this message on an even higher level. It was Ronald Reagan’s Double Track Decision of 1978 and his Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) in 1982, launching the biggest military offensive against the second super-power at the time: against the Soviet Union. SDI should de-functionalise the Soviet atomic weapons’ arsenal by undermining Moscow’s second strike capacity. This was a massive step against the deterrence philosophy of the Cold War and its military foundation based on the concept of «Mutually Assured Destruction». SDI failed militarily, but worked scientifically and in a sense also economically. 20 years later, Washington tried again to conquer the vast airspace in Europe by introducing the «European Interceptor Site» (EIS) with a ballistic missile defense shield. Massive local protests in Poland and in the Czech Republic, where the sites should be deployed, but also critics from Western European allies forced Obama 2009 to transform the project. It was renamed Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and again aimed at the control of Europe’s airspace by threatening Russia.

But NATO’s Double Track Decision of 1978 and SDI of 1982 had not only geopolitical impacts. The military projects also grew out of economic reasons. Washington managed at the same time to create state-demand by military Keynesianism and to «outarm» the Soviet Union.

The technological outcome of NATO’s Double Track Decision, the development of «Cruise missiles» and the deployment of «Pershing II», changed the balance of power on a world scale. Since then a whole range of wars were and still are fought by dominating the airspace. US-airforce is the backbone of US-hegemony. The term no-fly zone, which in fact means the monopolization of airspace by US- and/or NATO-tactical aircrafts, ideologizes the simple take-over of foreign airspaces like it happened during the wars on Iraq (1991), Bosnia (1995), and Libya (2011).

obama_drone_murdererThe so-called war on terror then saw the rise of a special weapon, which is used worldwide since 2002. Unmanned drones (UAV – «Unmanned Aerial Vehicle») gave way to a new strategy. Their predecessors derived out of Reagan’s NATO’s Double Track Decision in 1978, when Cruise missiles, unmanned weapons, were invented. Barack Obama made unmanned drones to America’s most effective weapons throughout in the last years. Since 1998 thousands of UAV operated and/or operate in ex-Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen. Only Pakistan counts 3000 victims by drone-attacks.

Washington’s aggressive military and civic behaviour in the airspace go hand in hand. It is based on a mixture of imperial self-complacency and fear, trying to compensate the loss of economic and moral power on the ground. Washington’s cultural capital and political authority are vanishing worldwide. Since decades US is no longer a model for people and governments in Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Snowden’s help-seeking in China and Russia looks like an historic irony. But the world has changed massively, in a way it has turned around. Todays USA present themselves in a fearful state of paranoia. Suppression and control seem to be the last means to compensate the loss of hegemony.

The «eternal» enemy Russia, historic ally in the dark 1940s, develops into a place of refugee. One generation ago, Russian liberal intellectuals, anti-communist opposition leaders, and human rights activists dreamed of American freedom. In the 2010s the opposite seems to be true. No doubt, the Russian oppression against oppositional groups at home survived the communist period and is still working to clear inner conflict in a rough way. But since a couple of years we also take notice of another phenomenon. Russia became a place of refugee for multiple cases. There are prominent tax-refugees like Gerard Depardieu seeking for a save heaven in Russia, political refugees like Edward Snowden stranding in Sheremetjewo and not to forget the many information-refugees from Europe and USA, who flee the mainstream propaganda media in their home-countries feeding them with false information and ridiculous commentaries on the situations in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Korea and lots of other hot-spots in the world. For many of them, Russian homepages and Television stations have become a much safer source of information then their local competitors. In this case, the USA is – at least till now – not able to conquer the – virtual – airspace.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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