Today’s Sun calls for the deployment of British drones to attack ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Rupert Murdoch thus joins a small but vocal chorus (including Liam Fox and Jack Straw) calling for the UK to join in with US airstrikes.
Over the past few weeks many commentators and campaigners and indeed senior politicians and military officials have argued, as the PM David Cameron did again on Radio 4 this morning that there is no simple military solution to the crisis in Syria/Iraq. Indeed, as many have stated, military intervention in Iraq help to create ISIS and caused the situation that we now face. Nevertheless we are beginning to see more and more voices calling for the use of armed drones.
Armed drones, proponents argue, enable us to undertake military intervention with no (or few) boots on the ground and to simply and cleanly kill ‘the bad guys’ while leaving innocent civilians untouched. The reality – as we have seen, particularly in Pakistan where hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in drone strikes – is very different.
The so-called ‘risk free’ nature of drone warfare – where pilots can undertake airstrikes while sitting comfortably thousands of miles away – tempts us into opting for a military response even when there is little or no evidence that it will be effective or successful. This is not only a serious threat to global peace and security but will no doubt increase the threat of terrorism right here in the UK
Although many politicians try to deny it, national security and terrorism experts regularly confirm that UK military intervention overseas has increased the security threat to the UK. Baroness Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, told the Chilcot inquiry that the invasion of Iraq had “substantially” increased the terrorist threat to the UK, while an MoD briefing paper argued that the war had acted as “a recruiting sergeant for Muslim extremists.” A recent study by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) also acknowledges that “there is no longer any serious disagreement” over how the UK’s role in the Iraq war helped to increase the radicalisation of young Muslims in Britain. “Far from reducing international terrorism … the 2003 invasion had the effect of promoting it.”
Some of those undertaking terrorist attacks in the US and the UK have directly attributed their attacks as responses to Western interventionary wars. Michael Adebolajo one of the murders of Lee Rigby stated that his was a “military attack” in retaliation for Britain’s occupation and violence in “Muslim lands”. London bomber, Mohammed Siddique Khan, and the Glasgow attacker, Bilal Abdullah, delivered similar messages. Some – like Faisal Shahzad, whose car bomb failed to explode in Times Square in May 2010, and Najibullah Zazi, who allegedly plotted to blow up the New York subway – directly attributed their attacks to on-going drone strikes.
Some senior diplomatic officials and counter-terrorism experts have also been arguing that drone strikes specifically are increasing the threat of terrorism rather than reducing it. Kurt Volker, former US Permanent Representative to NATO argues:
“Drone strikes allows our opponents to cast our country as a distant, high-tech, amoral purveyor of death. It builds resentment, facilitates terrorist recruitment and alienates those we should seek to inspire. Drone strikes may decapitate terrorist organizations, but they do not solve our terrorist problem. In fact, drone use may prolong it. Even though there is no immediate retaliation, in the long run the contributions to radicalization through drone use may put more lives at risk.”
Volker is not alone. Professor Michael Boyle, former counter terrorism adviser to President Obama has outlined in an important and detailed essay how use of armed drones is directly conflicting with long-term counter-terrorism initiatives and doing real damage. Yet again, Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006 and was previously CIA station chief in Pakistan said of the use of armed dronesin Afghanistan and Pakistan: “We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield.”
Deploying UK drones in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to be effective and will almost certainly increase the security threat to the UK and British citizens abroad. Drones give us the illusion that we can solve serious international political and security problems through ‘risk free’ airstrikes. This is a dangerous and simplistic fallacy.