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Are drones paving the future?

In this day and age, governments and militaries around the world are seeking the most efficient and casualty minimising means of warfare. This new rationale and strategy can be connected to people’s and governments’ sensitivity towards human suffering. Therefore, the main aim is to reduce one’s own casualties and fatalities, but also be more discriminate in the targeting mechanism. It is widely believed that, the means to achieve this goal is the use and employment of drones (aka. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). There appears to be a global consensus that for a state to preserve and increase their power and significance in the international realm, they ought to have drones.

Firstly, what is a drone/UAV? Simply put, it is “a land, sea, or air vehicle that is remotely or automatically controlled”. The frontrunner in advocating drones for warfare and security related matters are the United States. On a global scale, the US has been utilising drones more than any other country (and even most of them combined), and seemingly employs them religiously as soon as they get the opportunity to.

There are two UAV strike modes the United States uses; personality and signature strikes. Personality strikes target an individual where the name, identity and face are known (e.g. Anwar al-Awlaki – al Qaeda attaché). Signature strikes on the other hand, follow a pre-identified “signature” of behaviour. This means that the identity of the target is absolutely unknown and that through surveillance, operators try to establish a pattern to the individual’s behaviour. It is the latter striking method that causes concern.

As there is little to no evidence on who that potential target is, it is hard to determine whether a strike has been successful or not. Knowing this, it is worth mentioning that classified documents have been leaked in October 2015 that demonstrated a five-month period of drone strikes in Afghanistan, in which, a rough estimate of 90% of those being killed were not the initial targets. These deaths were categorised as being “enemies killed in action” without regard to whether they were civilians or combatants. Patterns that can represent a threat can be things like a man carrying a weapon or being dressed a certain way. However, in countries such as Yemen or Somalia these patterns can be very misguiding, since most people carry weapons.

Besides the inaccuracy of the drone strike types, it is important to mention that civilians being surveilled by drones are increasingly suffering from psychological harms. In some regions UAVs are hovering over villages 24/7. This leaves the inhabitants in constant fear of being struck, even when they know they are innocent and have nothing to hide. Additionally, this drastically changes people’s lives because day to day things can become a hurdle. For instance, a lot of people will avoid crowded places because they believe that this will attract drones. Therefore, civilians have even started to avoid funerals and family gatherings because UAVs have been targeting such events.

A lot of Pros and Cons of drones have not been mentioned in this summary, however it is important to re-think the ethical usage of drones in warfare and security related matters. As David Deptula said in an interview with the CNN: “unmanned aerial systems allow you to project power without projecting vulnerability”.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson (USAF Photographic Archives)