Ethics of remote warfare in focus as demonstration takes place at Centenary Square (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Ethics of remote warfare in focus as demonstration takes place at Centenary Square
Friday’s demonstration in Bradford’s Centenary Square highlighted the issue of attacks by American drones in Pakistan. Think of a radio-controlled model aircraft with weapons and you have an idea of what’s involved.
The supporters of the Bradford Global Justice Movement, George Galloway ’s Respect Party and Imran Khan’s Justice Party said in the T&A before last week’s demonstration, “there is growing alarm against US drone attacks in civilian areas and British intelligence assistance. Such transfer of military force is unnaceptable.”
True as that may be for some people, drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are here to stay – they are the future of air-to-ground warfare.
As one military analyst told me: “A couple of years ago, there was a Ministry of Defence statement to the effect that the Euro Fighter would be the last manned combat aircraft the RAF would ever buy.”
What puzzled Mohammed Ajeeb, former Bradford Lord Mayor and Labour Group deputy leader, was the timing of and location of Friday’s event. He said he was invited to speak, but declined because he couldn’t go and stand up for two hours He said: “Why so much concern about drone attacks in Pakistan now? They have been going on since 2003, 2004.
“Radicalising Muslim youth in Bradford is not going to help us. If they wanted to demonstrate against drones, they could have done so in London, outside the American Embassy. What has Bradford got to do with drone attacks?”
Actually, there is a connection. Professor Paul Rogers at Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies, knows a good deal about what Americans call ‘Unpersonned Aerial Vehicles’. He recently published a paper online at opendemocracy.net with the sardonic title ‘Suicide-bombs without the suicide: why drones are so cool’.
From the point of view of the countries that employ UAVs – the United States, Israel, Britain – the obvious advantage of this form of warfare is that it is far less expensive than conventional manned aircraft and comes without the risk of pilots being captured and held hostage.
UAVs come in all shapes and sizes, from something the size of a model aircraft to the US Global Hawk, as big as a Boeing jet-liner, which can fly thousands of miles without refuelling because it carries no personnel and hence no oxygen, but a lot more fuel.
They can be used for reconnaisance or for warfare. Some can be used for both. The RAF has two types: the Predator and the Reaper, an extremely powerful armed drone that carries missiles under its wings.
“They fly from Afghanistan but are controlled at Creech air base in Nevada. The RAF intends to move that control centre and personnel to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, but haven’t said when,” Prof Rogers said.
“Ajeeb is right. It was six or seven years ago that drone attacks started in Pakistan on any scale. They have intensified over the last 18 months as war by remote control has played a greater part in America’s war on terror.
“There is a greater emphasis on using air power, small groups of special forces – especially in night attacks – and private security. Big armies stay out of it because they stir up opposition.
“It’s maintaining control by remote means. In 15 to 20 years, the idea of completely autonomous drones is tenable,” he added.
In his article, Prof Rogers talks about ‘blowback’, as paramilitary and insurgency movements learn to adapt to warfare by remote control.
“They may be aided by support from a sympathetic regime – witness the unarmed TV-guided drones from Hizbollah, deploying Iranian technology, that have caused the Israelis much concern.
“Even short of that, the fusion of so many available dual-use technologies and the abilities of skilled engineers and technicians working within radical movements means that armed drones from non-state actors will be a feature of asymmetrical, trans-national war very soon.”
Thinking through the ethics of remote control warfare doesn’t appear to be a priority. Extra-judicial killing, like the phrase ‘collateral damage’ has become a feature of America’s war on terror in which the end is justified by the means.
But that’s not how people in the Middle East and elsewhere look at it. They see graphic evidence on television of the consequence of a drone attack, whereas in the West we rarely see such images.