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2014 Review (Part One) - Drone Wars: The New Normal

World  (tags: world, war, violence, conflict, drones, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), lethal UAVs, so-called ‘risk free’, US, UK, France, Israel, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali )

- 1505 days ago -
Stimson Center report argues that the existence of armed drones has "enabled a significantly expanded US campaign of targeted cross-border strikes against suspected terrorists. We believe that this campaign of targeted killings raises numerous questions"


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Evelyn B (63)
Saturday February 7, 2015, 12:20 am
2014 Review (Part One) – Drone Wars: The New Normal

2014 opened mounting criticism of the US use of drones for targeted killing gave way to a long and significant pause in drone strikes in Pakistan. This together with the imminent withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan gave rise to the possibility that the use of armed drones that we have seen over the past five years might perhaps become a thing of the past, an aberration to be looked back upon and wondered at.

As 2014 comes to a close however, nothing could be further from the truth. The pause in drone strikes in Pakistan came to an end in June and US strikes continue there as well as in Yemen and Somalia. In addition the US vowed to continue to use its armed drones in Afghanistan after the end of combat operations; the UK doubled its armed drone fleet; US and UK drones are fly over Iraq and Syria and Israeli drones regularly fly over Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere following the pounding Gaza received from its drones and military aircraft in the late summer.

Far from being a five year ‘blip’, it seems to campaigners, columnists and academics alike that the drone wars could be here forever. In future years we may look back on 2014 as the year the drone wars stopped being novel and became normal.

As if to emphasis this, other nations made significant advances in their own drone programmes this year. France began operating its unarmed Reaper drones over Mali in January and is pressing the US to acquire the armed version. Perhaps even more significantly France remotely operated its Harfung drones over Mali from 5,000km away in France for the first time, a substantial increase in capability.

Iran, which has made many uncorroborated claims to have armed drone capability flew unarmed drones over Iraq and Israel during the year, while China reported that it had deployed an armed drone during a multi-national military exercise. Germany meanwhile continues to debate whether the country should acquire armed drones with the Defence Minister calling for their introduction above opposition from other parties.
Secrecy vs. Transparency

Two significant reports looking at the ethical, legal and operational issues associated with the use of armed drones were published during the year. Firstly in June the US Stimson Center released their the Recommendations and Report of the Stimson Task Force on US Drone Policy, and secondly in October the UK Birmingham Policy Commission published The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK. Both reports, while coming from thoroughly establishment positions, (both commissions were stuffed with ex-military and ex-intelligence officers with a scattering of academics) generally approved of the use of armed drones but nevertheless made important criticisms.

The Stimson Center report argues that the existence of armed drones has "enabled a significantly expanded US campaign of targeted cross-border strikes against suspected terrorists... We believe that this campaign of targeted killings raises numerous questions, some strategic, some legal and ethical." They also acknowledged that the so-called 'risk free' nature of drone wars may simply mean more warfare:

"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 United States to fly such missions more often, pursuing targets with UAVs that would be deemed not worth pursuing if manned aircraft or special operations forces had to be put at risk."

The Birmingham Report sidestepped this vital aspect of the debate simply stating they were "not persuaded" that the threshold for use of force would be lowered by drones "as long as Parliament plays its proper oversight function." Accountability and transparency are crucial elements here and both reports as well as multiple civil society groups and legislators in the US and the UK called for much greater transparency and accountability for the use of drones throughout 2014.

The Obama administration finally released a redacted version of the infamous 'drone memo' after a long legal battle. The memo, written in 2010 by the US Justice Department gave approval for the assassination of US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki . The content of the memo brought scorn from many legal scholars and others including the editors of the New York Times who wrote in an editorial that it was "a slapdash pastiche of legal theories - some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law - that was clearly tailored to the desired result."

In the UK, we (Drone Wars UK) lost our long Freedom of Information fight to reveal in which Afghan provinces UK drone strikes were taking place and the breakdown in percentage terms of UK drone strikes pre-planned and those undertaken 'on the fly'. The courts accepted the MoD argument that such information would assist enemy forces. In a similar vein while UK forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan the MoD will not say how many UK Reaper drones have moved to the Middle East to strike targets in Iraq.

Drones vs. Democracy

After a burst of media interest when airstrikes began in Iraq and Syria, there is now little mention of them by politicians or the press. As Western military forces fire missiles and bombs around the globe, the population on the home front barely notices. Such remote wars have become mundane it seems. And if there are any objections, mainstream media will parrot pro-war nonsense - such as the US Global Ambassador for Women stating that women of Iraq plead "to be killed in airstrikes rather than be brutalized by ISIL" - as Rania Khalek points out in her article ‘Drone-Strike Feminism.’

Throughout 2014 there have been numerous ceremonies to mark the centenary of the First World War with fine words intoned by our political leaders about the glorious sacrifice to uphold democracy. But one hundred years on are we really upholding the legacy of those who died? In his excellent New York Times essay 'Drones and the Democracy Disconnect' Firmin DeBrabander argued that "with less skin in the game – literally – we can be less vigilant about the darker tendencies of our leaders, the unintended consequences of their actions, and content to indulge in private matters." He concludes that this new way of waging war, far from spreading it as it is often claimed, in fact undermines it:

“Drones represent the new normal, and are an easy invitation to enter into and wage war — indefinitely. It is antithetical to a democracy for its voting public to be so aloof from the wars it fights. It is a feature, I fear, of a democracy destined to lose that title.”

One hundred years on from the 'the war to end all wars', war seems to have become a permanent, normal, almost unremarked on feature of our political landscape. Rather than paying tribute to those who lost their lives in 1914-1918 we have spent the centenary mocking them.

Evelyn B (63)
Saturday February 7, 2015, 12:31 am
A fact to consider:
US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for every intended target, new Reprieve report reveals

There are two further parts to the series:
2014 Review (Part Two): Crunch time approaches over civil drones
2014 Review (Part Three) – On Drones: The Best of 2014 (With useful references to a number of reports)

Darren Woolsey (218)
Saturday February 7, 2015, 1:11 am
This is beginning to sound like the Star Wars Clone Wars. . .

If the U.S and other alliances have the technology to isolate confirmed terrorist targets, with minimum or zero civilian casualties, using drone technology, then perhaps this is the way to go. The only problem being, IF the terrorist factions, ISIS, etc., get hold of the same technology, then we're in serious trouble.

Patrick Donovan (344)
Saturday February 7, 2015, 6:53 am

An eye for eye leaves the whole world blind.

Past Member (0)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 6:03 am
There is a great danger in this.

Past Member (0)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 10:36 am
I'm sure they don't always hit just their targets, I also think there is great danger in this.

Janet B (0)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 12:41 pm

Lois Jordan (63)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 1:52 pm
Noted. Thanks for posting, Evelyn. I've come to believe that armed drones are a sign of a soul-less country.

Roger G (148)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 3:06 pm
noted, thanks

Ken O (55)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 3:24 pm
Murdering people remotely with no judge, jury or accountability is immoral and illegal under any circumstances.

Roslyn McBride (28)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 11:15 pm
Noted - doesn't like a good method of "warfare" to me

Evelyn B (63)
Sunday February 8, 2015, 11:22 pm
The scariest part to me (like Lois' comment about "soul-less") is - where is the line between video war games & piloting armed drones? How do (or even, DO ) they differentiate between virtual "collateral damage" and real human beings wiped by a shot that was aimed at one target but "caught" others? While the shooter is sitting in his/her ergonomic seat in safe quarters ....

Evelyn B (63)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 2:30 am
No More Drone Strikes - Petition
- and PLEASE sign

And watch No Judge, No Jury, No Trial • BRAVE NEW FILMS: SECURITY

Eleonora Oldani (37)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 3:38 am

Thanks Evelyn for posting this info and links - signed and shared. Absolutely agree with Lois' and Ken's comment.

I fail to understand that normal, law abiding people can believe that such illegal acts, where due legal process is cancelled/denied, are "just fine" because ... yes, because of what? Because they've been indoctrinated enough to see no wrong in whatever some Western governments decide and do? Or is it because it goes against "Muslims" - the demonized and dehumanized villains of the day?

One "result" which we've seen is the killing of these three youngsters in North Carolina yesterday. In a second blown away because of the created hype against Muslims rather than going after the self-created extremists which obviously got out of hand as so often seen in the past too.

Evelyn B (63)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 3:46 am
Yes - too true, Eleonora. And people don't realise how much the "collateral" civilian deaths from these lethal drone strikes drive people into the arms of extremists ...

Off topic, but - The saddest part of the Chapel Hill killings was the way the media zapped the event - it took the social media to wake up mainstream media -

Yet we saw a war last summer in response to 3 teenagers' deaths ... Some imbalance somewhere

Eleonora Oldani (37)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 3:59 am
Darren, I'm not so sure if you really thought it over before posting your comment - this is not like you.

"If the U.S and other alliances have the technology to isolate confirmed terrorist targets, with minimum or zero civilian casualties, using drone technology, then perhaps this is the way to go."

Who is the one "confirming" it is truly a terrorist target? Anyone who is opposed to the US hegemonic aspirations is today a "terrorist" per definition. It is not without reason that the US (or the West if you wish) and Israel refuse profoundly to define "terrorist/m" as this rubbery noun can be stretched in any direction and where ever suitable.

Instead of applying Aspirin (read: drone strikes) why don't we solve the root cause of "terrorism" and terrorism? Address who and what is really causing it would be a much more productive way - although I know that this is NOT in the interest of the MIC nor the "1%".

But it would be very much in the interest of world peace and human mankind. That would be sustainable in the long term and it would truly improve the lives of all human beings and not just of a few.

Given the collateral damages ... read innocent civilians like you and me being the overwhelming victims of drone strikes this is simply NOT the way to go. But even IF there were no innocent people being killed in the process it is highly immoral as everybody has the right to due (legal) process.

I'm sure you're familiar with the expression "my terrorist is your freedom fighter" and vice versa. It's a no-go IMO.

Eleonora Oldani (37)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 4:24 am

Well Evelyn - you probably remember that nice guy who said a few years ago that "1 *** soldier's life is worth 10'000 of Muslim scums" (O-ton of quote in Haaretz) when talking about the disproportionate use of force.

In the same vein goes the "overlooking" of the mainstream media of the killing of these three young Muslims - and yes ... draw the comparison in terms of reporting about the 3 Jewish Teenagers or the 4 in the French supermarket ... or any hate crime incident against Jewish people ... and then compare how many media outlets report that there are an average 42.8 hate crimes PER MONTH against Muslims in London alone!

Or take what we see ever so often done by the hate and incitement brigade here on Care2 where they insert the word "Muslim" when it's not in the official title of a report and is often assumption based on wishful thinking. If a crime has been committed by a Christian, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist et al. it is never ever mentioned to which religion he/she adheres to ...

The whole has system and it's a very bad one!


Evelyn B (63)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 4:49 am
Eleonora - I think "broad spectrum anti-biotic" would be a better parallel than aspirin ... because it knocks out far more than the "target" problem ... and too much leads to ineffectiveness, resistance to antibiotics!

But other than that, yes, agree 100%

Re Darren's comment
"IF the U.S and other alliances have the technology to isolate confirmed terrorist targets, WITH MINIMUM OR ZERO CIVILIAN CASUALTIES "...... Those are conditions that are SO far from being met!
So EVEN if the judgement of "terrorist" were 100% reliable ....
That's an awful lot of IFs!!

For the rest - admittedly, off topic here .... it is a question of monied & influential groups that find one ethno-religious category is newsworthy for the slightist insult ... and no strong influential lobby speaking up for the Muslim victimes of hate crimes ...
How many "price tag" attacks never get mentioned in the media?

The worrying thing is, those drones are sooner or later going to be tools for wiping out homes in the way of landgrabbing settlement expansion plans .... with the usual excuse of "terrorist home", "self defense" etc

And the chances are, they'll be used also in retaliation ... smaller versions, smaller impact - but much more front news coverage.

Drone warfare is only "justifiable" from the user's perspective, not from any human value basis. Justification is based on an assumption of the user being 100% right & their "target" (and by extension all those around them) being 100% wrong .. And reality isn't so black & white ...

Eleonora Oldani (37)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 2:22 pm

Evelyn - I have done some reading, listening and watching today, following your links as well as Dandelion's. It is simply horror and beyond words.

When do these mothers, fathers, children get their day at the United Nation very much like the mothers of the three teenagers which were killed last year in Israel??


Evelyn B (63)
Thursday February 12, 2015, 5:18 pm
The video with the petition posted by Dandelion showed that a couple of children were brought to make their voices heard in Congress ... and hardly anyone bothered to attend the session :^(

But the victims of drone strikes don't have the same backing as the families of those teenagers .... so who knows if they'll ever get their voices heard ..

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 21, 2015, 11:06 am
I love reading you two talking :)

Eleonora Oldani (37)
Saturday February 21, 2015, 1:30 pm

Hi Dimitris - other than "listening" to our chat ;-) ... what's your take on the drone situation?

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 21, 2015, 2:03 pm
My take? :)
"those drones are sooner or later going to be tools for wiping out homes in the way of landgrabbing settlement expansion plans .... with the usual excuse of "terrorist home", "self defence" etc"
She say it all. I'm afraid the worst we didn't see it yet. I'm afraid those drones are just a testing....Today is ISS, IRS :) IRA :) tomorrow it would be a Russian invasion south of Caucasus...who knows :)
Einstein was right about the IV World War :)
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