In response to my recent Guardian opinion piece on the waning coverage of the military use of drones, a number of below the line commentators made the oft-levelled aside that ‘drones don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Tech writer Kelsey Atherton weighed in on twitter too arguing that drones themselves aren’t the problem, rather it’s how they are used that is the issue (see Kelsey’s Storify of our brief debate here). In a similar vein, academic Stephanie Carvin argues in ‘Getting drones wrong’ in the most recent issue of International Journal of Human Rights, that scholars and researchers should avoid “the magpie-like distraction of the ‘shiny object’ that is the drone” and instead “focus on the larger issues at stake.” Read more
Three years ago today (25 March) four Afghan civilians were killed and two seriously injured in a British drone strike in the Now Zad district of Helmand province. According to the MoD the strike, which also killed two men believed to be combatants, was investigated by ISAF who found that the strike had been “in accordance with extant procedures and rules of engagement.” Words of regret were issued, the case closed and British and US drone operations in Afghanistan continued unabated.
Seemingly by coincidence, the Defence Select Committee chose the third anniversary of this tragic event to release the report of its inquiry into the use of ‘Remotely Piloted Air Systems’. Not only is the anniversary itself ignored, so too is how UK drone strikes are actually impacting on the ground in Afghanistan. The fact that casualty figures from UK drone strikes in Afghanistan are not made public is not even mentioned, never mind challenged. Just as the four Afghan civilians killed in that British drone strike three years ago remain nameless, so to do all victims of UK drone strikes in Afghanistan Read more
As we reported, in December the MoD began a PR offensive on the UK’s use of drones by inviting selected members of the press to RAF Waddington in order that the MoD could correct the “wild misrepresentations” about drones put about by drone activists.
As part of this initiative, UK Defence Secretary wrote an op-ed piece in the Guardian to which a former US intelligence analyst, Heather Linebaugh scathingly responded “few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on.” Read more
Killing by Remote Control: Ethics of an Unmanned Military is a new collection of academic essays edited by Bradley Jay Strawser, a philosophy professor at the US Navy Postgraduate School in California. Strawser, as readers of this blog may remember, was interviewed by The Guardian last year and quoted as saying in relation to unmanned drones: “It’s all upside. There’s no downside. Both ethically and normatively, there’s a tremendous value.” Famously, Strawser argues that the US has a moral duty to use drones.
Most, but not all, of the authors writing in this collection are coming from a military perspective, either as former serving officers or currently employed within military teaching institutions. As Strawser notes in his introduction “none of the Read more
On Thursday (23 Oct) President Obama gave a much-trailed speech on counterterrorism, large parts of which focused on the US use of drones. At the same time a ‘fact sheet’ on US policy on the use of force outside declared wars was published, as was a transcript of a background briefing given by senior US officials to journalists. All of these documents give some insight into the US use of drones.
In the speech President Obama accepted many of the criticisms that we and others have made over the past four years including (as he put it) Read more
Paddy Ashdown – or Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon – to give him his proper title, former Royal Marine, intelligence service officer and leader of the Liberal Democrats has an opinion piece in the Times entitled ‘If you’re opposed to drones, then think again’ (paywall).
Ashdown rehashes what are probably the top three pro-drone arguments. Firstly that drones are not indiscriminate like cluster munitions so can’t be objected to because they deliver ‘smart’ bombs; if we don’t use drones our citizens and soldiers will be killed; and finally there is nothing new about remote warfare, indeed he suggest “it goes back to the Roman trebuchet.” Read more