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Debate: Remote-control warfare

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What are the pros and cons of drone operations?


Background and Context of Debate:

Ethics: Can pilotless airplanes be morally justified?



  • Killing civilians. Attacks on civilian sites (if they had not been so commandeered) "may constitute war crimes. (...) On June 23rd 2009, for example, an attack on a funeral in South Waziristan killed 80 non-combatants." The Economist, "Droning on", April 2010
"Observers note that one third of all casualties are civilians. According to Rozoff, approximately “160 people have been killed in drone missile strikes in Pakistan in slightly over two months this year” (March 2010). Georgetown adjunct professor Gary Solis, commenting on the CIA drone program, suggests that the civilian operators working out of Langley can be considered “unlawful combatants” (Washington Post, March 12, 2010)." "Drone Warfare in the 21st Century", March 2010
  • Drone operations resemble warfare video games. "... the operators of drones, often on the other side of the world, are far removed from the sight, sound and smell of the battlefield. They may make decisions to attack that a commander on the ground might not, treating warfare as a video game." The Economist, "Droning on", April 2010
  • Lack of collective morale. "Deploying forward with like-minded colleagues, dressing in uniform and living in austere conditions give military forces identity and a sense of belonging. Both are good for military morale and, therefore, the achievement of military objectives. Military commanders will need to devise means of replicating this collective morale for the RCW warrior, who may never physically meet his contemporaries in combat." "The Psychology of Remote Control Warfare", by Wing Commander Pete York, GBR AF

Efficiency: Are drone operations crucial for military success?


  • They are useful for assassinations. "On February 17th [2010], for example, Sheikh Mansoor, an al-Qaeda leader in the Pakistani district of North Waziristan, was killed by a drone-borne Hellfire." Economist, "Droning on", April 2010
  • Drones enable us to counter terrorists' advantages. "The use of drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles, has made it possible for the United States to counter two of the terrorists’ principal operational advantages: the ability to hide among a civilian population and the use of neutral or even friendly territory as a base of operations. These unmanned systems can be deployed for long periods over hostile territory, usually undetected, until the location of a target is confirmed." "The Pros and Cons of Drone Wars", Lexington Institute, by Daniel Goure, Ph.D, February 2010


  • Drones are counterproductive. Errors, such as accidental bombing of civilian sites, "are not only tragic, but also counterproductive. Sympathetic local politicians will be embarrassed and previously neutral non-combatants may take the enemy's side." The Economist, "Droning on", April 2010
  • Lack of situational awareness. Most military operations require "that warriors at all levels have a profound understanding of the effects they are aiming to achieve. Learning by seeing, feeling and ‘suffering’ alongside one’s adversary all contribute to this situational understanding." People operating drones from far away have none of these inputs. "The Psychology of Remote Control Warfare", by Wing Commander Pete York, GBR AF

Future impact: Are drones desirable?


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  • The number of conflicts could increase. While remote control warfare can improve "a government’s ability to impose its foreign policy objectives"(..), "however, with less risk of collateral, governments may also become more willing to start wars to achieve their political ambitions. Thus, the likelihood of proliferating world conflict could increase." "The Psychology of Remote Control Warfare", by Wing Commander Pete York, GBR AF
  • Possible future inability to act. "The [] reduced need for military risk-takers could prove irresistible to decision makers seeking to minimise front line military manpower levels and budgets. This dilution of military manpower in theatre could adversely affect a Commander’s flexibility to manoeuvre when ’boots on the ground’ are needed." "The Psychology of Remote Control Warfare", by Wing Commander Pete York, GBR AF

See also

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