U.S. military insiders recently reported a shortage in drones has slowed the war against ISIS. This after President Obama stated that restrictions imposed on drone warfare to minimize civilian casualties will not be applied to the situation in Syria and Iraq. Analysts conclude that if the drone shortage forces the U.S. to send troops to Syria and Iraq we can expect the death toll to climb and ISIS’s recruitment success to skyrocket. The call for an expansion in drone warfare capabilities might allow for the innovation specialists have called for. They state reduction in civilian deaths as their goal. This would lead to less local vengeance and retaliation.
Their goal is noble. In fact “noble” couldn’t be a more apt descriptor. In 1139 Pope Innocent II issued a bill forbidding the use of crossbows in order to protect the position of nobility in European society. The prime function of European nobility at that time was to supply royalty with expensive and well-trained soldiers. The crossbow was a cheap, easy to use, and powerful weapon. With a week’s training a mere peasant could kill a heavily armored knight. The idea of peasant armies decimating skilled forces was deemed void of chivalry. The crossbow’s ban was, literally, “noble.”
When faced with opponents adopting new and different strategies and tactics, the powers that be are quick to declare their opponents uncivilized. Militant groups — peasants in every sense of the word — don’t comply with NATO’s chivalrous, ritualized just-war theory. Drone warfare is seen as a civilized response which legitimatizes the U.S.’s involvement by downplaying the horrible nature of war. Yet the terrorizing of local populations through indiscriminate drone strikes continues. The proposed remedy for this horror is not to cease war — that would be unthinkable and unprofitable — but merely to improve upon its execution.
A number of ideas have been put forward to mediate the amount of innocent victims. Technology philosopher Christine Boshuijzen cites technologically impaired military officials as a reason for civilian deaths. Doctoral student Dieuwertje Kuijpers calls for more democratic accountability for the CIA. Artificial intelligence professor Gustzi Eiben wants to improve drones’ face recognition and tracking software. Computer scientist Arnoud Visser claims the remedy is to fully automate the whole killing process by programming drones with algorithms governing the acceptable margins of error. These changes might very well reduce innocent deaths. Drone warfare would be far more efficient. But is efficiency really the goal?
One can only begin to imagine how a perfect drone feeds the military’s hubris. With the imagined ability to micromanage regional power relations through precision strikes anyone even slightly suspected of terrorist aspirations could be assassinated quickly at the sterile and civilized push of a button. A vengeful glance in the direction of the star-spangled banner and subsequent terrorist recruitment would be easily spotted and dealt with too. Algorithms might even decide which youths are ripe for terrorist recruitment and allow for immediate decimation of these datapoints.
The correct next development in drone warfare is its immediate end. The aristocracy, the elites, are fighting long distance wars against small groups of individuals cooperating in networks of ever changing allegiances, petty vengeance, tribal grudges, religious extremism, and political instability. The clear solution is non-interventionism and abolition of the warfare state.
Christiaan Elderhorst is the Dutch Media Coordinator at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org), an anarchist think-tank and media center with a self-described mission "to explain and defend the idea of vibrant social cooperation without aggression, oppression, or centralized authority."
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