The Guardian story in October 2010 about two men in Iraq who tried to surrender to an Apache helicopter and failed, ending with their deaths at the hands of the helicopter crew, poses an example of the dilemma facing military interventionistas today.
If a man on the ground cannot surrender to a warplane or helicopter, still less can he surrender to a drone or missile. How do you surrender to a machine, especially if it is one that has been programmed by name, face or other details to kill before you’re even aware of its presence?
Little use running out and putting your hands up. A helicopter pilot may be motivated to radio for instructions. In the case of a drone, turning your face towards it merely enables automated software processes to confirm that the correct target has been acquired. Sentence is passed and carried out automatically, in seconds.
This is the war of the machine on man; “Terminator” brought to life. It reads like classic sci-fi, war between living, warm-blooded creatures and cold, dead machines. Except that it is real, and taking place right now in the skies above countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and Yemen.
Can you wonder at the hatred such machines generate towards those who operate them? In traditional Muslim fighting codes, death was the end of honourable face-to-face combat where the best, or the most lucky, won. The killing blow was intended to be delivered mercifully.
Perhaps death from a missile strike could be considered merciful; it would at least be instantaneous. But you would not know anything about it beforehand, certainly not for long enough to make a decision about what to do. There is little choice involved, and no honour for either victim or executioner.
The use of such cold, soulless weaponry can never be anything but barbarous. Imagine a meeting of the tribal elders, sat around the fire in a small village or in the open. They’re pursuing a way of life that has endured for centuries. But when conversation is interrupted by the sound of a drone overhead, talk stops, while those present wonder who amongst them might be liable to bring destruction down upon the entire group.
This is why the use of drones for remote-control strikes in countries such as Pakistan is a policy doomed to fail. It is also why the drone-strike policy represents ultimately a failure in thinking among the west’s combined military and intelligence services. Such strikes are meant to make possible the killing (there is no option of capture) of enemy guerrilla fighters or terrorists.
Yet word-of-mouth reports coming from Pakistan for example remark on another consequence. Use of drones in the skies above these countries is generating widespread outrage among ordinary people. An outrage which goes largely unreported in the mainstream press.
These reports point to a continuing destabilisation of life in the cities, as more and more areas fall under the sway of Taliban sympathisers. If these reports are true, the main result of the drone-strike policy is to alienate further the local population. Which means that if the west’s task was difficult before, it has now become doubly so.
Using drones in the skies above another country is a policy that is ultimately self-defeating, since use of these machines generates more hatred than can be countered by any short-term benefit. It is a policy sold to governments by those who understand the uses of technology, but lack the vision to foresee the political consequences.
Is it not time that the west had governments that are able to control their military and defence sectors, rather than simply being the puppet dog wagged by the tail?
© Philip Hunt, 2010
12/2011. Washington Post. In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in six countries on two continents.
Europe’s leading drone manufacturers have joined forces in yet another EU-funded R&D project on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’. The OPARUS project brings together …. read more …