It was once said that the “Europeans only wage wars from a distance”. This can be true of the current drone campaigns orchestrated by the United States against ostensibly hostile nations such as Pakistan and Yemen.
The U.S is turning away from the large-scale military interventions that it has become accustomed to during the past decade, towards more covert operations that have introduced a new scope to killing. The increasing usage of unmanned drones in recent years has been described as a “necessary course of action” by the U.S administration. Yet what is it that makes these aerial devices so different to anything we have witnessed throughout history?
To outline UAVS or Unmanned aerial vehicles fall into two categories; those for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes and those that can be armed with missiles and bombs. Interestingly the MQ-1 Predator drone was conceived in the early 1990’s for the purpose of the former (reconnaissance and forward observation roles) however, innovation led to it being installed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and other munitions. These have since been in use in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Drones are cheap, efficient and of no danger to the flight crew. You can bomb live targets that you have never seen- from a screen. Despite already acting without human operators, developers are producing fully independent drones that are able to decide where to go and what to do. They are also dirt cheap, for the price of one jet fighter, eighty-five drones can be purchased by any potential country. The most popular drone, the Predator can fly twenty-four hours a day conveniently through the sky.
The effect of this accessibility and supposed efficiency of drones is disastrous. It has introduced a new scope of killing that has promulgated a complete depersonalisation and dehumanisation of war. Killing becomes very different from a distance it becomes abstract, one could even argue boring. You are taking part in the death of a civilian you have never seen, met or spoken with, the blood is no where near your hands.
The argument also surfaces; can machines be charged with war crimes? Certainly a machine cannot be trailed, charged and sentenced in the International Court of Justice. Additionally, in the case of Collateral damage whereby the incidental destruction of civilian property and non-combatant civilians has taken place, who is to blame? The state, the drone itself or the operator whom is kept completely out of the public eye?
From the late nineteenth-century, the world became embroiled in arms race that brought humanity to the brink of World War III. This global tension constituted normalcy for most people during the Cold War, yet such dangerous hostility seems alien to us now. In hindsight we question; how did the governments of the world let it get so close?
Long after we are gone, drones could continue wars, they could even be combined with nuclear weapons. Will we ask the same questions; how could the U.S government let it get so far? One fact will remain incontrovertibly true; drones are merciless, cowardly devices that have completely changed the face of modern warfare forever.