Thursday 7 June 2012

Drone warfare - the case against

In a week when drone attacks are once again in the news, the release of a new book on the subject is worthy of comment. Medea Benjamin's Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (£11 from OR Books as print-on-demand, ISBN 978-1-935928-81-2 or £7 e-book ISBN 978-1-935928-82-9) is a comprehensive statement of the case against the growing use of unmanned aerial 'precision' strikes.
Benjamin herself is co-founder of the women's peace movement, CODEPINK and says she wrote the book "to wake a sleeping public lulled into thinking that drones are good, that targeted killings are making us safer." 
In the book's foreword writer Barbara Ehrenreich compares the debate over drone warfare to a similar debate that took place nearly 3,000 years ago as set out in the verses of Homer's Illiad, where the Greeks derided Paris and the Trojans for their reliance on bows and arrows, saying that real men were not afraid of hand-to-hand combat and that only cowards attacked from a distance, hidden behind rocks and trees. Similar debates greeted the development of artillery and tanks and other forms of warfare, such as the use of gas in the First World War.
Benjamin recounts a visit to Peshawar in north-west Pakistan in 2002 where she met a young refugee girl whose family had been killed in Kabul by an American bombing raid. She says that despite all the talk of smart bombs and laser-guided missiles, she quickly realised that hi-tech wars were never going to be more humane than conventional war. She dedicated herself to getting compensation for civilian victims of American bombing and out of that grew the CODEPINK organisation.
As the Obama Administration eagerly embraced the drone strategy begun by President Bush, Benjamin and her colleagues became more and more concerned: "Members of the US peace community watched in horror as these snipers in the sky started spreading from Afghanistan and Iraq to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and Libya. Instead of stopping the scourge of war, under Nobel Peace Prize winner President Obama the military was simply shifting tactics from boots on the ground to assassins in the air."
Her book provides a detailed account of the development of drone warfare over the past decade and presents the case against their military use. It also highlights and warns against their growing use for domestic surveillance.
That having been said, it is hard to see how drones can be uninvented. They are seen as a godsend by the military, allowing for strikes in remote regions that could never be mounted by conventional forces. Every day there is a new technical development and there will soon be a drone for every eventuality. Every major military power in the world is now engaged in equipping itself with drones. Whether this tidal wave of new technology can be stopped is very doubtful indeed. The Greeks, after all, couldn't stop the spread of bows and arrows.

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