Responding to a parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas about the civilian victims of UK drone strikes in Afghanistan last week, David Cameron said “I do not think that the answer is to turn our face away…”
Was the Prime Minister suggesting that it would be morally reprehensible to ignore the victims of British drone strikes and that we would of course squarely face up to our responsibilities to these people and their families? Alas not. Instead, and rather predictably David Cameron was arguing that we cannot turn away from drone technology which, as he put it, is “taking out” the bad guys.
It’s not only the British Prime Minister suggesting there can be no turning away from drone technology. There seems to be a growing acceptance of the inevitability of a drone-filled future behind much reporting and commentary on the issue of armed drones. “The future belongs to drones” was how The Economist put it this week, whilst a Reuters article argued that drones were “the perfect weapon for a war-weary nation …on a tight budget.” The Reuters piece went on to quote an unnamed senior US official:
As the Iraq war winds down, more drones equipped for intelligence gathering and other purposes have been freed up…..The overall U.S. drone arsenal has also increased. “It’s something that in some ways is a natural evolution…..”
As we have noted before this (anything but natural) “evolution” is changing the nature of warfare and making the world a much more dangerous place. Launching armed interventions simultaneously in six countries around the world without any risk has suddenly become a reality because of drones. As a thoughtful piece in this month’s Defence Technology International, exploring how drones are impacting on the pace of war, suggests
“Would the U.S. engage in such a wide-ranging air campaign if it were conducted only with manned aircraft flying from overseas bases and carrier strike groups? Has the use of unmanned systems led to more warfare, in more places, because of the smaller logistics tail and the fact that pilots’ lives are not at risk?”
I think the answer to that has to be a resounding ‘yes’ – drones are definitely beginning to lead to more warfare. However in order to avoid difficult questions about international law, the Obama Administration is insisting these are not acts of war but ‘police actions’
Writing in Foreign Policy Thomas Ricks argues: ”The drone strikes being conducted in [Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen] are not being done to challenge those states, but to supplement the power of those states, to act when they cannot or will not.” (So much for the principle of sovereignty – if states will not do what we demand we can overrule them with drone strikes.) “Drone aircraft have changed warfare…. [and] they also are changing diplomacy and foreign relations” Ricks argues “but it is not war”
To show how much nonsense this idea of ‘police action’ is Greg Scoblete at The Compass says “If Iran suddenly developed the wherewithal to fly a drone over suburban Virginia and blew up the house (and wife and kids) of a man it claimed was in the CIA conducting a terror campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists, I think the U.S. would consider that bombing an act of war, or at the very least an act of terrorism. It certainly wouldn’t consider it “police work.”
A future of drone strikes being responded to with terrorism which lead to further drone strikes and so on can easily be foreseen. In Pakistan ordinary people are doing what they can to break the spiral as this project shows. We too in the UK and the US have a responsibility to ‘turn our face away’ from this dreadful future and do what we can to prevent the continuing drone war evolution.