Thu. August 30, 2012
Letter to Observer Newspaper about Reaper Drones
Peter Beaumont is right that to be killed by a drone is no worse than to be killed by a cruise missile or highflying bomber. And, as he says, drones may be less indiscriminate in their targetting.
But in the current blossoming of drone warfare, we see another dangerous disproportionality: not in the quantity or quality of the carnage but in the cheapness and ease of delivery.
US drone pilots interviewed by CNN say it is easier to be accurate, less stressful when you can observe and target the ‘bad guys’ free from G forces and distractions of enemy fire. In effect, the drone attack is a leisurely hit-and-run, no screaming tyres or smoking gun. A drone may get written off but the driver is safe, and the cost in material and manpower much less than with a conventional aircraft or missile platform.
Effortless killing is morally repugnant. Was it Graham Greene who posed the question: what would you do if you could win a fortune by wishing the death of a stranger in China? More to the practical point, the ability to kill without detection or loss is an incentive to war criminals.
Drones are relatively cheap and may prove more easily replicable and transferable than more cumbersome offensive technology. Iran is reported to have secured a US model, and other less cautious customers will be lining up. The more weapons around, the more people of all sorts are likely to get killed by them.
Present practitioners are not confined to US and Israeli forces: I have a letter from a UK defence minister earlier this year confirming that RAF pilots are flying Reaper missions alongside USAF counterparts in the United States.
As Beaumont concludes, we badly need clarity on both the morality and effectiveness of drone warfare. Any review should take into account the warnings of Imran Khan on the damage done by drone attacks to secular democracy in Pakistan, a matter of life or death for him.