Globalisation of terrorism has brought to all of us “drones”, the worst kept secret of future warfare. Drones have unleashed and added a new pattern of horror to the already devastating cruelties of battles fought among nations, and between nations and non-state actors. It was no other than the US, which first started the extensive use of drones for targeted killings. The continued support of power, status and money for long have emboldened America to introduce the drones as one of the most sophisticated weapons of “firepower” in the arsenals of the 20th and 21st centuries. No wonder, America still enjoys the status of superpower, though Russia and an emerging China always hint for an alternative mode of power centres. The emergence of drones in the warfare can well be regarded as no other than a paradigm shift. And this paradigm shift is discovered in the very absence of the warrior from the battlefield. And truly, the warrior’s absence will result in new psychological stimuli for both the warrior and the policymaker, who is just planning for his next move. Combined with precision weapons mounted on drones, the drone technology can be used to control territories and human beings. As for now this capability is not turning out to be a fact, but there are chances that this will soon be so. So drones will not simply remain as simple robot-controlled killing machines from a safe distance, this will be a big game changer in the battlefront.
Hence, it is worth looking at the drones – what is it and how can it change the futuristic wars? And, of course, how could drones be regarded as an all new threat to civilians?
Post-Taliban, Afghanistan was the birthplace of the armed drones wherein America had to orchestrate a completely new war strategy to target both the dreaded al-Qaeda terrorists and to retain its superiority in the warring greater West Asian region. Basically, America had to find a new killing machine to wipe out Osama bin Laden, who was then taking shelter in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. But then Washington was completely uneasy about ordering an assassination that may result in civilian casualties. However, the historic 9/11 terror attack at the heart of the US, such doubts disappeared. The American administration and its security agencies took the help of drones to eliminate Islamic terrorists not only in Afghanistan but also in many other parts of the world. Therefore, it was the need of the accurate, purely up-to-date information about the target that led to the development of drones. Before that, drones were used in the Balkans for surveillance, but this time the range and reliability factors were brought under serious consideration while arming them. The initial thinking was that lessening the time gap between target identification and strike would certainly enhance the probability of a precise strike, with minimum collateral damage. This is how one of the most controversial weapon systems of the modern warfare has come into existence. In fact, killing Osama was possible through drones, but he had invited the same by targeting America in September 2001. Afterwards, the US responded heavily, by targeting both the al-Qaeda and its protector, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In fact, America’s armed drone strike came that autumn to kill the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. However, this time, there was no cry for legality of using such lethal weapons, but it was simply killing a combatant in the battlefield.
Since then, America has been using drones in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and in Pakistan to kill terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda, the ISIS and what it calls as “associated forces”. Thus, Michale Hayden, the former director of the CIA, said using drones have become a “part of the American way of war”.
So far, drones have sparked an international debates and dialogues across the civilian space, power corridors and, of course, among the war strategists. First of all, what transpired from the political left is that drone strikes are simple signs of America’s war mongering spree going amok. It is nothing but a planned attempt to reassert its hegemonic role around the globe. Scholars like Mathew Burrow are concerned not only of the legal ramifications of domestic drone used by Government organisations, but the broad spectrum variations Americans could experience (2013). To him Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) flying high in the sky can have a chilling effect on democracy that most Americans would consider intolerable. These are standard idealistic concerns raised by many scholars like him. Today, with an all powerful globalisation, all aspects of our daily lives are seriously disturbed, interrupted and rather our privacy aspect has been compromised to a great extent. It is “no drone era” that can particularly rob the freedom from the American natives, but it is the greatness and super accessibility of the information and communication technologies that are indeed giving us enough liberty on one side and taking away much more on the other hand. However, many of the common criticisms against drones do not hold good or rather failed to offer any serious scrutiny, while offering a comparison between already available war weapons and the UAVs for military purposes. The most common anti-drone argument says that “drones kill more innocent civilians than enemies”. It is a fact and the international community has witnessed the devastating impact of these UAVs over innocent people across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, etc. But then all types of wars are finally fought to defeat the enemies and mostly it results in grave tragedies. There are some means and methods like the drones which cause more unintended damages than the others or which were used before in any wars and
Arguably, drone strikes don’t exactly kill innocent people or enemies, but people kill people in the warfare. If we draw a comparison between deaths occurred because of drone attacks and other weapons of war, then it can clearly be concluded that the rate of casualties of the former is not higher than the later. To be fair, the common means of warfare cause more deaths than drones.
If we look at the other side of drones, it is bringing us an entirely a noble experience. Unlike other existing advanced technological war weapons, drones provide greater precision while targeting an enemy. Using UAVs is a strong force multiplier for sure. For instance, an army helicopter needs at least two officials: one to fly the vehicle and the other to manage the entire system. However, drones, which require less intervention to accomplish both, enhance the capabilities of a single officer and at the same time spare resources for other crucial tasks. Also, UAVs carry highly accurate ordnance which normally causes lesser damage than other munitions. Another advantage of drones is that as it is comparatively fuel efficient, it can concentrate more on targets than any manned aircraft. Therefore, drones actually don “persistent surveillance”. It makes them easier to spend hours, days and possibly months while monitoring a potential target. It just not only swoops, but also fires missiles and goes off faster than manned vehicles. Finally, they are “equipped with imaging technologies that enable operators who may be thousands of miles away to see details as fine as individual faces”. Besides, modern drone technologies allow their operators to distinguish between civilians and combatants far more effectively than most other weapons systems. But if it is the case, why are the US drones killing innocent people in many countries, particularly in Afghanistan? For commoners, such incidents could well be regarded as either sheer carelessness or may be an intentional game plan to cause a fear psychosis. But, in any case, either of them will bring home a complete negative perspective of America’s long-term foreign and defence policies in the affected areas.
As we witness more and more sophisticated technologies entering into the war kitty, the debates are fast coming up about the extensive use and abuse of the UAVs by the US. Across the US, at least 36 States had already passed legislations in regard to drones by 2014. “While much of the legislations introduced seeks to solve perceived privacy issues, some of the legislations seeks to require a warrant before drones are used, even in public places where privacy expectations are diminished” (American Civil Liberties Union, 7th November, 2013).
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