Game of drones

gameofdrones

An Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a type of aircraft which has no onboard crew or passengers. UAVs include both autonomous drones and remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs). A UAV is capable of controlled, sustained level flight and is powered by a jet, reciprocating, can also fly upside down or electric engine.

History

The earliest recorded use of a UAV for warfighting occurred on August 22, 1849, when the Austrians attacked the Italian city of Venice with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives, after their occupying force were kicked out by the Venitians. The first pilotless aircraft were built during and shortly after World War I.

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Drone strikes

In recent years, US targeted strikes involving UAVs have gone from a relative rarity to a relatively common practice in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. As the number of strikes increases, so, too, does the strategic risk.

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Legitimacy?

The US administration has disclosed details relating to only a few of the targeted strikes against its own citizens. Details regarding incidents that may have involved civilian casualties also have not been disclosed. In formal court filings, the administration continues to state that it will neither confirm nor deny particular strikes, or even the existence of such strikes as a general matter.

From a US government perspective, the US is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda and its “associated forces”. Or so we are told. The existence of an armed conflict triggers the applicability of the law of armed conflict, permitting the US to target al-Qaeda operatives as enemy combatants. By extension, members of organizations that fight alongside al-Qaeda are also targetable and the law of armed conflict does not require the US to provide “due process” to enemy combatants.

defense-attackInternational law also recognizes that states have the right to use armed force outside their own borders when doing so is necessary to prevent an “imminent” attack. The US argues that targeted strikes against terror suspects are permitted both under the law of armed conflict and under the international law of self-defense. The criteria used to determine who might be considered “enemy combatant”, what counts as “battlefield” and what as “hostilities” and how “imminent” a threat is, remain unknown to the public.

The US administration relies on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as primary domestic legal basis for targeted strikes within the US, but the administration’s interpretation of the AUMF is extremely broad.

For targeted strikes abroad, the US military and CIA generally work together quite closely when planning and executing targeted UAV strikes. Strikes by the CIA are called “covert action”. The CIA does not have to report covert operations in advance to any members of Congress except the “Gang of Eight“. Afterwards a strike must be reported to the full intelligence committees, but not the full Congress.

The US military is allowed to do such “covert actions”. When the military strikes, it is called a “secret, unacknowledged activity that is intended to remain unacknowledged”. It is only allowed for activities that constitute “traditional military activities” under US law. Are they? Drone strikes? Does such a thing as “traditional drone strike activity” even exist? Secret, unacknowledged drone strikes carried out by the US military need not be reported to the intelligence committees. The military reports to the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

This piece of info here, that piece of info there, no transparency, doubtful legitimacy … Mistakes? Abuses? Who knows?

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Exposing the invisible

Evasion of real civilian control is made possible by military-to-military and political-to-political relations. Highly unlikely we will be given transparency on drone development and strikes by any government or its military. Well then, We Be Nagging You For (More) Information and We Be The Media.

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Setting an international precedent

From the perspective of many around the world, the US currently appears to claim the legal right to kill any person it determines is a member of al-Qaeda or its associated forces, in any state on Earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret evidence, evaluated in a secret process by unknown and largely anonymous individuals — with no public disclosure of which organizations are considered “associated forces”, how “combatant status” is determined, or how the US defines “participation in hostilities”.

“Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the 19th century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it. I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Feb. 11, 2013

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Drone war normalisation

Does the US have a legal right to use force in the territories of foreign sovereign states when those states are “unwilling or unable” to take what the US considers appropriate action to eliminate what it sees as imminent threats? Assessments of what constitutes an imminent threat to the US and what would constitute appropriate action are somewhat subjective in nature; the US may view the use of force as justified even when US allies and partners do not. The US use of force in sovereign nations whose consent is questionable or nonexistent may encourage other states to follow suit with their own military platforms or commercial entities.

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Blowback

Civilian casualties can anger whole communities, increase anti-US sentiment and become a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organisations. Even strikes that kill only terrorist operatives can cause great resentment, especially in contexts in which terrorist recruiting efforts rely on tribal loyalties or on an economically desperate population. UAV strikes by the US have also generated a backlash in states not directly affected by the strikes, partly because such strikes cause excessive civilian deaths, and partly due to concerns about sovereignty, transparency, accountability and other human rights and rule of law issues.

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Slippery slope

The increasing use of lethal UAVs may create a slippery slope leading to continual or wider wars. The seemingly low-risk and low-cost missions enabled by UAV technologies may encourage the US to fly such missions more often, pursuing targets with UAVs that would be deemed not worth pursuing if manned aircraft or special operation forces had to be put at risk. For similar reasons, adversarial states may be quicker to use force against UAVs than against manned aircraft or military personnel. UAVs also create an escalation risk as they may lower the bar to enter a conflict, without increasing the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome. The US use of lethal UAVs for targeted strikes is likely to be imitated by other states. Such potential future increase in the use of lethal UAV strikes by foreign states may cause or increase instability, and further increase the risk of widening conflicts in regions around the globe.

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It is BB! Big Business!

In the 21st century, technology reached a point of sophistication that the UAV is now being given a greatly expanded role in many areas of aviation. It is Big Business!

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News & Watchdogs

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