The good, the bad, the drones: A Strife 5-part series

By Joana Cook,
Managing Editor, Strife

BAE Taranis UAV, Model on display at Farnborough Airshow 2008 (Photo by Mike Young)

By 2025 it is estimated to be an industry worth $82 billion USD and responsible for the creation of more than 100,00 new jobs in the US alone. It will target commercial and civil markets, and be used in applications ranging from precision agriculture and public safety, to niche areas, such as battling poachers in wildlife reserves. It is, however, their use in security operations which will be the focus of this Strife series.

The controversial use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), more widely known as drones, has been recently highlighted by a UN Special Rapporteur examining their use in counterterrorism, news stories of victims of drone attacks testifying before US Congress, as well as recent documentaries such as Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars. There are even iPhone apps, such as Metadata, which have tracked and mapped drone attacks since the first known incident on November 3, 2002 in Yemen. Since then, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that upwards of 4,172 people have been killed in strikes across Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, 1,032 of which were civilians. Afghanistan has seen at least 59 civilian deaths under ISAF, while the number in Iraq and Libya remain less clear. Organizations such as UK-based Reprieve call for international accountability for what they refer to as ‘the new face of state-lawlessness in the name of counterterrorism.’

The use of drones, however, has been supported by some as an option which has left the forces using them safe, reduced the amount of potential civilian casualties, and eliminated key targets in areas often referred to otherwise as ‘terrorist safe havens’. The use of drones has also been viewed by analysts like Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, as the latest piece of the US counter-terrorism package which has traversed from ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns, detentions and renditions, to the ‘clear, hold, build’ policies seen in Afghanistan, and most recently focusing on drones as the most effective and publicly accepted counterterrorism policy.

Over the coming weeks, Strife will be featuring a five-part series on drones, expanding on the ways by which drones are commonly framed. We will reexamine the roles drones play in shaping how we think about, and engage in, security from a number of diverse approaches. Zoha Waseem will survey how the current drone program in Pakistan is affecting everything from militant propaganda by the TTP, to rural-to-urban population displacement. David Hofmann will discuss why, as traditional battlefields give way to insurgent campaigns, drones are necessary and effective. Dr. Jack McDonald will be analyzing the legal implications of drones in a field not yet internationally defined. “May you die in a drone strike” is becoming a favourite curse in Yemen, and Dr. Victoria Fontan will discuss both the social implications of drones in Yemen, and how this may not be weakening AQAP as intended. Daniel Møller Ølgaard will be taking a unique look at drones through the lens of biopolitics, and at how the use of drones may be transforming the very nature of war and governance.

Drones will not be exiting the security scene anytime soon. Instead, we hope this series will provoke more thought and debate in a field that will play a significant part in all our lives in the coming years. We leave you to be the judge in “The good, the bad, the drones.”

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