The morality and politics of drones


              The west is currently attracted to developing more smart bombs and drones. The west wishes to influence overseas countries that might harbour terrorists, and wishes to root out or kill terrorists that could be a threat to the west.

             The drone has a long history. Germany towards the end of the Second World War unleashed V1 and V2 flying bombs on southern England.  Counter measures included seeking to destroy their launch sites, and trying to shoot them down in mid air. The Germans improved their technology to speed them up and to move to mobile or better hidden launchers.

             More recently digital technology has allowed precision use of these fearsome weapons. Western systems allow operators to programme the flying bomb, guided by satellite navigation, to a specific street address many miles away. The method avoids risk to allied western forces, as the bomb can be delivered with no western manpower needed anywhere near the target, either in a plane or on the ground. It can be fairly specific with the target, though its sucess depends on good intelligence, and on the just the right people being  at the location bombed at the moment of impact.

           The technique has its military disadvantages. There is no-one near the target to see the latest conditions on the ground and to authorise the firing from a suitable position. The enemy can claim the bomb did more damage that it actually did. No-one can be sure who, if anyone, was killed by a flying bomb strike on a building. If you are trying to win over hearts and minds, it is not a friendly way to assist. If you need to influence and assist a country into peace loving and democratic ways, you may need troops  on the ground to train and assist local people in establishing law and order. If you are successful at killing terrorists, you may also be successful at helping them recruit more people to their cause. Successful remote bombardment can help the terrorists win over a local  population against the outsider.

             I have no objections to the west developing smarter bombs and drones. They may be needed. I do think the west needs to reflect carefully on where and how often they should be used.  They may be politically counter productive. They can be morally wrong. The west has to recognise there are limits to how far we should go in enforcing our  counter terrorist policy by authorised murder rather than through inter governmental and legal process.  Our best protection against terrorist attack at home is good intelligence allied to proper control of our borders. Anyone authorising or triggering a smart bomb would be wise to ask for legal cover in our jurisdiction against possible future legal  charges, and will need to remember that the country receiving the bomb may take a different view of its legalities. It is, of course, simpler where a state of war exists. There the issue of authorising the death of people is governed by the rules of engagement.  In some case now smart bombs are sent into countries where no war has been declared.

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  1. Single Acts
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Setting aside the fact this is just extra-judicial murder, imagine a reverse scenario.

    Imagine Iranian or Pakistani drones cruising about UK air space targeting bad people but also hitting other innocent people and children.

    How might we react? Can this be anything but counter-productive?

    • Gary
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      well said. We may wring our hands and agonized over the morality, and then you turn it around and ask what if they did it to us ,the answer becomes immediately apparent. If we used this simple test of all of our foreign adventures, we may be inclined to stay where we belong, at home.

    • Alan
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      We would probably react by trying to defend our air space, attacking the launch sites if we could find them, and “judicial killing” of the people sending the drones if we could find them. We would in these circumstances be willing to accept that we were killing some innocent people.

      You don’t really have to imagine this: it is almost what is happening. Al Qaeda attacked the USA, and the USA is now doing all these things, some of it using drones.

      Of course from Al Qaeda’s perspective it is responding to the USA’s intrusion into Saudi Arabia in the early 90s, whilst the USA would respond that it had been trying to counter Iraq’s attack on Kuwait. The Iraqis of the time would argue that Kuwait was historically a province of Iraq and they were only taking what belonged to them, and the Kuwaitis would say…

      Is all this counter-productive? You bet. Is there a better way? You would think there ought to be.

    • James Sutherland
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      “Imagine Iranian or Pakistani drones cruising about UK air space targeting bad people but also hitting other innocent people and children.”

      If those ‘bad people’ were engaged in warfare against Iran or Pakistan, that would be … war. If our military took their side, trying to protect them from those strikes, we would be taking sides in that war against Iran/Pakistan, so our troops would also become their targets.

      Supposing we had a militant group in the South of England, building and firing missiles across the Channel into France. Is it not reasonable to expect our own government either to shut these people down itself, or to allow and assist the French to do so? Otherwise, we would – rightly – be seen as condoning the attacks, making us responsible for them: an act of war on our part against the French.

      If we did have such a group, the fault would lie with our own government for harbouring it, not with France for taking steps to fight back against that group.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      We might react by dealing with the ‘problem’ ourselves perhaps?…

    • Disaffected
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      There is another point that is crucial to this blog, when the Uk is involved it does not even admit any involvement ie Gaddafi nor any wrong doing ie Iraq. and Libya.

  2. Martin Cole
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Thanks for providing so much food for thought. Complicated and dreadful dilemmas!

  3. Pete the Bike
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I is not a dilemma. Drones are murderous and evil weapons of domination. Any country that uses them loses any moral authority. If Pakistan where not ruled by corrupt US puppets they would have declared war on America for it’s outrageous aggression. Britain should not ever use them except in a declared war against conventional troops.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      @PtB: What is the difference between a drone and a war-plane, of course you might think both are immoral?…

    • uanime5
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Pakistan wouldn’t declare war on the US because their army would be crushed very quickly and they lack any real way to attack the US.

      Did it occur to you that Pakistan may support US drone strikes because the USA is attacking people the Pakistani Government doesn’t like.

  4. Julian
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    “The technique has its military disadvantages. There is no-one near the target to see the latest conditions on the ground and to authorise the firing from a suitable position.”

    You seem to be confusing smart bombs and drones. Drones have cameras and can circle for hours identifying targets and confirming the conditions on the ground. They then fire missiles and can continue to observe the effects and success or failure. Drones in Afghanistan are controlled from the US but are flown like planes, although the pilots are thousands of miles away. Drone pilots don’t “programme the flying bomb”, they fly the plane and fire their missiles when they have identified a target.

    Reply: The drone from the air cannot usually see who is inside the building or bunker.

    • forthurst
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      “Drones have cameras and can circle for hours identifying targets and confirming the conditions on the ground.”

      Precisely, they are true weapons of terror. In WWII, Londoners were exposed to “doodle bugs” from the characteristic sound of the engine which attacked when out of fuel, so they became extra fearful, when the sound of the engine was replaced by silence. I have received personal accounts of the terror caused by the scream of the Stuka dive bomber. How more terrifying and inhibiting of normal behaviour would it be to be exposed for hours on end to circling drones believing that someone, somewhere, far away might misconstrue your normal cultural practices or legitimate reasons for assembly and decide to blow you to smithereens at any moment?

      • Alistair M.
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        Actually, you’re wrong on first premise. Most targets never see their attackers. The drones typically engage from 6-10km off; they are small, and high up; hard to spot or hear. Even the weapon flash and boost is usually not detected before the Hellfire comes through the window of your SUV at 250 m/s.

        Rarely is a change is target behaviour seen during an attack. They overwhelmingly die ignorant, if its any consolation.

        • forthurst
          Posted November 10, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

          Well, I didn’t make it up. I was refering to evidence before Lord Justice Moses from Mr Noor Khan:

          “The community is now plagued with fear. Drones hover over our skies day and night. All over NWA [North Waziristan Agency, Pakistan], but especially in Datta Khel, drone strikes continue to take place.

          “The Tribal elders are now afraid to gather together in jirgas as has been the custom for more than one century. We are scared that if we get together we might be targeted again.

          “The mothers and wives plead with the men to not congregate together for fear that they will be targeted. They do not want to lose any more of their husbands, sons, brothers, and nephews.

          etc. (translated from Pashto)

          • Jerry
            Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

            Indeed but did those in London during the Blitz feel any different – that is the nature of indirect war, in other words unless one can engage in hand to hand fighting there is always the risk of innocent people being either accidentally targeted as in the case of Pakistan etc. or targeted on purpose as in the case of the Blitz and “Doodle-bug” drones during WW2.

          • Alistair M.
            Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

            I was going to suggest Mr Noor Khan was simply lying, but then I noticed nothing he says actually contradicts me. Read it closely.

            They know the drones are used. They just don’t know when one is in their area. You really can’t see or hear these things in most circumstances.

            They are afraid of ominpresent threat? Tough. The civilians in Kabul don’t know when a Taliban suicide bomber is about to go off in their face either. If they want to live peaceably, then all the good folk of NWA need to do is stop sheltering AQ, Taliban, and HN etc (you don’t deny that militants are there, do you?). At least our attacks generate a much lower collateral damage rate than they see fit to inflict on the poor people of Afghanistan.

          • zorro
            Posted November 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            Reply to Jerry – we were at war with Germany then, but we are not at war with Pakistan……


      • Tom William
        Posted November 10, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Actually drones can not be heard on the ground, and usually not seen. V1s and Stukas are as irrelevant as the terror induced by sieges.

    • Jerry
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      @Reply: Nor can any bomb released from an aircraft or otherwise.

  5. lifelogic
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I suspect they are largely counter productive and successful at helping the enemy recruit. It is indeed just extra-judicial murder, often in countries with no war would even be legal or is declared.

    As “Single Acts” says imagine the reverse scenario over the UK. Is it any any more moral than any other form of assassination or bomb placing?

    It should only be used in very, very, exceptional circumstances indeed.

    • zorro
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Question – Is it a war crime? Particularly as war has not been declared on Pakistan, and, as far as I am aware, Pakistan has not given permission for these drone strikes nor the Yemen on their territory.

      I really cannot see how these strikes can be justified without evidencing any clear and present danger to the USA. The civilian casualty rates have been far too high overall even though the rate has apparently improved……

      Of course, if Obama wants to declare war on anyone, constitutionally he requires the permission of Congress. However, certain tactics have been used to obviate/circumvent that requirement.

      I think that the tactic is counter productive, though without doubt, in a war situation the equipment has its advantages but not when dealing in civilian populated areas….

      John uses the euphemism of ‘authorised murder’. I am not aware of this phrase existing in legalese and am sure that murder in any form is against international law….

      How can western countries take the moral high ground when we act openly in such a way with one man deciding who is going to die?


      • Alistair M.
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        Yes, the term “Murder” isn’t used at all in Law Of Armed Conflict, as far as I can remember. “Authorised Murder” is a silly oxymoron anyway, and unnecessarily emotive.

        Whats you acceptable rate of casualties for proportionality? I’ll take 1 in 2…and bear in mind that the enemy will swear blind you hit civilians even if you didn’t.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the “every one you kill recruits another” meme.

      Relax. It ain’t supported by the data. Doesn’t happen. Ratio < 1. Null evento. Don't worry.

      Some people spent a long time checking kill data and "why did you join the insurgency" just to make sure of that.

  6. Alan
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I think there are two points of real substance here, one is whether we are willing to kill anyone as a matter of state policy, and the second is whether doing this killing with drones is any more immoral than doing it with manned weapon systems.

    The second question is easier: I can’t see what difference it makes to the morality what type of weapon system is used. The moral questions remain the same. It seems to me that unmanned systems may permit more considered decisions than manned ones: a drone can linger in the area and transmit back pictures and intercepted communications to enable its operators to come to a more careful decision than someone on the ground or in the air near the target who will be under pressure to make his escape as soon as he can, or just to get back to base for some lunch. A drone may well have better observation of the target than someone on the ground or in the air, and more people can be involved in any decision making. So I vote for more drones.

    They are a replacement for air forces, not ground forces. They can kill and observe, but they cannot set up roadblocks, search buildings, talk to people (although they could maybe listen to people), or do all the other things that soldiers can do to control territory.

    I suspect the UK will have little desire in the near future for the type of warfare where drones could be useful. We could be in one of those difficult areas for defence policy where we are trying to decide what capabilities we want to keep in order to have them just in case they might be needed in some contingency that we cannot at the moment imagine (Trident replacement is another example). If the EU could get its act together on defence that would provide an economical way of maintaining capability. As it is, I think we need to keep in close contact with what the USA is doing – but we need to do that anyway, since the USA is the only country in the western world with any serious defence capability. All our defence policy decisions come back to keeping in close alliance with the USA – or start spending a lot more money.

  7. backofanenvelope
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    The V1 was a ballistic missile. Not a drone.

    • English Pensioner
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Surely not. As one who remembers them as a child, I’d suggest that they were unguided drones in that they flew like aircraft. Probably a predecessor of the Cruise missiles. The V2 was a rocket which might be described as a ballistic missile.

      • backofanenvelope
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        I stand corrected. The V2 was a ballistic missile, the V1 was a flying bomb. It was guided in the sense that you launched it in the right direction and gave it sufficient fuel so that it crashed in the target area. Neither were drones. 50 years ago the Russian drone, the DR-3, flew a preplanned course and shut its engine down when it reached its recovery point.

      • Martyn
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        The cruise missile analogy is good – V1 rockets were gyro stabilised, flew on a fixed heading with a pre-determined amount of fuel which ran out a tad before the hoped for point of impact. The gyros had limited authority, hence it was possible to tip them over with a piloted aircraft fast enough to get alongside the V1 and tip it with its wing. A sporting activity which some pilots brought to an art form! The V2 is perhaps properly thought of as an unguided ballistic missile, in the sense that it could never be guaranteed to land where one thought it was aimed.

        Modern drones lift surveillance of an area, place or people into the 21st century and can save the lives of our forces. I am far from sanguine that they should be used to kill people unless it is categorically clear that none other than the intended target should become involved. Which in most cases cannot be so, hence the morality of such a use is unsound.

      • Alistair M.
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        V1 was an pulse jet, flying like an aircraft, with a primitive guidance system.

        V2 was a ballistic missile, with an equally primitive guidance system.

      • Tom William
        Posted November 10, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        I too remember them. They were as unguided as long range artillery.

  8. JimS
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    As noted by others you seem to be confusing weapon systems.

    Surely the purpose of inventions like the sling or the bow and arrow was to have a means of attacking your enemy while standing away from harm yourself?

    The term ‘drone’ is misleading anyway as these devices get more sophisticated the information sent back to HQ is far greater than that from a fast jet, with or without the aid of Forward Air Control.

    The ‘danger’ in the future is that the ‘attack button’ moves back up the chain of command to the politicians and lawyers and miltary tempo is completely destroyed. A fast tempo war leads to speedy victory and low casualties on both sides; a slow tempo leads to long drawn out attrition e.g. WW1 or, in a modern setting, Afghanistan.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      Good post. +1.

  9. backofanenvelope
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    The Americans are violating Pakistani air space. The Pakistani Air Force should get its act together and shoot the drones down. Obama has even ordered the execution of an American citizen without trial (in the Yemen). If the US was at war with Pakistan then the drones could be justified. But it isn’t. There are rules about this sort of thing and by not obeying them they are descending to the level of the (terrorists?).

  10. Electro-Kevin
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I am amazed that we haven’t had more terrorism here.

    Rather than this being indicative that the over-seas policies have worked I can’t help but feel that the threat has been overstated.

    For Al Qaeda wreak death, havoc, paranoia it doesn’t need sophisticated networks, leadership nor training camps. It doesn’t even require military weaponry – just suicidal fanatics with easily available tools, chemicals and machinery (cars and lorries for example.)

    I fail to see how drones are protecting us from this.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Look at what a lone nut-job did in Cardiff a couple of weeks back.

    • zorro
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      ‘Rather than this being indicative that the over-seas policies have worked I can’t help but feel that the threat has been overstated’…….Indeed, I am not surprised at all that there have been so few incidents bearing in mind the provocations. They simply do not gave the logistical capability to carry out sustained attacks. In fact, if you look at the facts and the supposed terrorist plots in the US, they wouldn’t have been possible without CIA or FBI hardware as it is clear that the intelligence agencies see some guy who wants to bomb somewhere no matter how implausible, work on him, and then supply hardware, before arresting him and saying that they have foiled a terrorist plot.


  11. Acorn
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Obama authorised nearly 300 drone strikes in Pakistan during his first four years in office, more than six times the number during the administration of George W Bush, according to the New America Foundation policy institute. Since 2004, a total of 337 US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,908 and 3,225 people. The institute estimates about 15 percent of those killed were non-militants … (PakTribune).

    Hands up all those who thought we didn’t engage in such cowardly warfare. Still, Obama does not have to keep the US military sweet anymore, no more votes to worry about. .

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Cowardly? Would you prefer the enemy to be able to shoot back to make it somehow more honourable?

      Honestly, you’re in the wrong century mate.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      I’m afraid your lack of contextual knowledge leads you to argue against yourself.

      15% is a very low collateral ratio for an airstrike. They’re clearly being extroadinarily careful.

  12. English Pensioner
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Regardless of the morality of such attacks, I’d rather use drones if it saves the lives of our service men and women. So many lives have been lost in Afghanistan, and to what end?

    My preferred method of dealing with rogue regimes (or whatever one wants to call them) is covert assassination, preferably using mercenaries. I’m sure with Iran, for example, rather than going to war over their nuclear programme, it would be far better (and cheaper) to assassinate a few key figures. The Israelis appear to favour this approach, they have my full support. We should stop being gentlemen and try devious underhand and non-attributable methods.

    • Single Acts
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Good luck in getting politicians to say it is okay to assassinate other politicians. Something of a ‘can of worms’ for them.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      If only it were that easy, alas. Assassination is really tricky, especially against people who grow up in a regime where paranoia is a survival trait.

      Mind you, take a look at what the CIA are doing with Iranian nuclear scientists, eh?

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted November 10, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Well, if you are not bothered about the morality of such attacks, what about the rule of law. Pakistani airspace belongs to Pakistan. There are a myriad of international laws, rules and regulations governing the use of this airspace. And using it to murder men, women and children on the suspicion of harbouring terrorists isn’t legal. Well, it may be legal under US law, but what has that got to do with it.

      • Alistair M.
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

        Post-WWII International law never considered the problem of failed/failing states, basically. It assumed that all states had de facto control of all their territory.

    • zorro
      Posted November 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Have I mentioned the unmentionable?


      • zorro
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Can’t mention the King David hotel bombing it seems…..


  13. Martin Ryder
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    People who follow this blog should be in favour of Unmanned Air Systems, as they are much cheaper than Manned Air Systems. Much of the cost of an aircraft is related to the needs of the aircrew. If you do not have the aircrew then that cost falls away. Of course you still need the ground crew to maintain the aircraft and you do need a sophisticated (and therefore costly) command and control system.

    Another saving is that you do not need superfit pilots, who spend years being trained and getting the necessary experience to fly and fight. Almost anyone could operate the UAS if they are trained properly and so meeting the diversity targets of the RAF and Royal Artillery is made easy. The operator can also have loads of people looking over his/her shoulder (or at other monitors) and giving advice or orders about where to go and who to kill. Or, of course, you could take people out of the loop and let the computer on board the UAS take the decisions based on its programming.

    The present generation of UAS aircraft need a reasonably benign air space, as they are slow and should be quite easy to shoot down if they can be found. I am surprised that the Pakistani Air Force hasn’t had a go at them but maybe they can’t find them, or don’t want to find them. If aircraft, of any discription, were hanging around over our coastline and lobbing missiles into our houses I would would expect a vigorous response from the RAF.

    I consider that there is no moral dilemma, simply because I cannot see what right any government has to kill people in a country that the government is not at war with, unless the government of that country has asked for help. Even then I do not consider that the UK government, or the US government, should help another goverment kill its people, or even foreigners who are living in its country. If we had been sending people into the Republic of Ireland to kill members of the IRA and their friends and families then the USA would have been, rightly, outraged.

    Using UAS aircraft over a battlefield where our troops are engaged is entirely different. UAS aircraft are ideal for ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Aquisition and Reconnaissance) operations and are vitally important. They can loiter for a long time and can be invisible from the ground.

    I am very uneasy, however, about them being able to attack ground targets, as it is much easier for an operator sitting thousands of miles away from the action to look at the whole thing as a computer game. He/she is peering at a small screen and cannot look around to see what is happening outside of the screen. His/her senses are not hightened by fear. However if the operator can see a group of people or vehicles that are attacking, or are about to attack, our troops them it makes sense (especially for the troops) for him/her to be able to destroy them. Rules of Engagement must be very carefully written and observed.

    Changing the subject: I have made comments on previous posts about my Conservative MP not being very visible. I emailed him before the MMF vote and asked him to support the Reckless motion. Yesterday I received a detailed letter from him letting me know why he supported the government motion, rather than the Reckless motion. His letter made sense and, though I would rather he had followed your example, I accept his reasoning. My family, all five of whom can vote, were impressed by his letter and the fact that he took the time to write it.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Good post.

      Apart from the whole “at war for killing to be moral” thing. Modern governments never declare war. Its messy and complicates matters on several levels (ironically, for legal experts looking for unintended consequences the administrative costs of it became too high). Yes, yes, I know they “should” for legal purists, but no one does, and its pretty much customary law now and complaining about it is barking at the moon.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Oh one more thing:

      RPV screens are waaaaaay big LCD types. Usually 2 or 3 40 inchers. Image quality is usually excellent, depending on sensor and distance, obviously. The operator gets a better view than he would in a cockpit peering through binoculars and without the distractions of noise, vibration and flying the aircraft.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

      Pakistan probably isn’t attacking the US drones because they don’t want the Taliban to operate in their country, they don’t want to risk their soldiers being killed (which will increase Taliban moral), they don’t want to pay the financial cost of mobilising their army against Taliban, and they won’t be blamed for any deaths caused by the US. So letting the US pay for the war and take the blame for anything that goes wrong is very useful for Pakistan.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      Probably written by an unpaid intern.

  14. Tedgo
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I don’t see that drones are much different to land mines. Both are designed to kill and maim without warning.

    As to terrorism, nothing will get sorted until the west stops backing the (word left out) state of Israel.

    • Daniel Thomas
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      The west should stop supporting the state of Israel, (etc)

    • zorro
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      And land mines are illegal…..


      • Alistair M.
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

        Technically, no.

        Some (many) states have decided to abjure land mines (Ottawa convention). And that’s sweet. But this does NOT make it illegal for non-signatories to use.

    • Sir Richard Richard
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      What a stupid comment. Land mines are entirely different because they typically operate far beyond the conflict they were used for.

      And yes, you’re right, as soon as everyone in the ‘west’ stops backing the state of Israel, there’ll be no more terrorism and we’ll all live happily ever after.

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      Designed to kill and main without warning? What a silly distinction. So is a bullet. Or a bomb. I won’t even point out that drones are not weapons; they are aircraft which (sometimes) carry weapons.

      Anyway, to your main point. Drones allow the target to be selected, and are in that (important legal) sense, discriminate. You may be interested to now that the main reason for the Ottawa convention was that Land Mines were felt to be indiscriminate and thus in breach of the LOAC requirements (Geneva, Additional Protocols).

      I’ll let your Israel comment rest. You probably need to read up a little on modern warfare before continuing.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      Israel is just an excuse used by Islamic terrorists to attack non-Islamic countries. If Israel has been destroyed they’d find some other reason, such as US bases throughout the Middle East or Western culture corrupting children.

    • Tedgo
      Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Well its nice to get a response, struck a few nerves.

      Yes Alistair and others, I agree a bullet, particularly if fired by a sniper, and may be bombs fall in to the same category. I say may be for bombs because the launch platform (jet fighter) is large, noisy and can be easily picked up on radar. Drones cannot be so readily detected.

      When the Taliban get drones, and remember some American army units are using drones purchased from Radio Shack, they will be flying over our bases and targeting solders in their tents and latrines. Developing small drones from being purely for observation to carrying small amounts of explosives would be simple, as would crashing them in to the selected target.

      On a wider point, although technology is improving, I still believe the fighter pilot, with mark one eye ball linked to a brain, will still get a better perception of the target and potential collateral damage. The amount of data a drone can send back is still limited by the bandwidth between itself and the satellite, its to do with aerial size and power requirements.

      As to Israel I simply feel that they need to learn to become good neighbours, rather than always resorting to violence. In this, the west seems to support this violent approach by arming them and not condemning them.

      Perhaps the west should consider trade and other sanctions to encourage a change of heart on their part. Yes they got out of Gaza, but they still blockade it. How can the majority of normal people in Gaza get on with their lives. In Northern Ireland our government recognized that the violence was perpetrated by a small group of extremists, they did not blockade NI nor punish the whole population.

      Currently Israel’s determination to attack Iran will lead to bad consequences for the whole region, if not the world. The west must stop Israel from doing so.

      • Tedgo
        Posted November 10, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        Although denied by governments, the west including the UK, are moving more fighter planes in to bases close to Iran. Now whether these planes will be used to help contain the fall out from a Israeli attack on Iran, or used to discourage Israeli from attacking by threatening to, and if necessary carrying out, shooting down Israel bombers remains to be seen.

  15. Roy Grainger
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    If we are using drones to kill terrorists in countries that we are not at war with then we should also be able to use them in this country, in Northern Ireland for example, in exactly the same way. Correct ? If not, what is the difference ?

    • Single Acts
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Or indeed in the Republic of Ireland. If they fail to extradite or arrest anyone we vaguely suspect of being in the continuity IRA brigade, lets just put up a few drones. The Irish possibly lack sophisticated air defences, let’s just cruise around offing people and if some civilians get it, c’est la guerre.

      Oh wait, they have TV coverage, speak English more or less and the people look like us.

      How long do we imagine anyone in the IRA would remain at peace if we engaged in behaviour like this?

    • zorro
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      The US would protest……


    • uanime5
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      The western media is more likely to report white people being killed in Northern Ireland than Asians being killed in Pakistan.

  16. Sir Richard Richard
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Afghanistan is a pimple on the anus of humanity. The Russians understood as much, which is why they left. If they couldn’t deal with the insurgents, then I don’t see how our forces, constrained by unfair rules of engagement and ‘human rights’ can. I fully endorse a complete and permanent withdrawal.

    As for the usage of drones; the further away a soldier is from the enemy, the less mental trauma they’ll suffer as a result. Artillery/helicopter/planes/drones are far better for a soldier’s mental health than close quarters battle. Apart from the standard moral concerns of war and the bombing of civilians in general, I see no unique moral consideration in relation to the usage of drones being necessary.

  17. Neil Craig
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Technology changes military situations even faster than the rest of the world. I have been advocating that Britain invest a signifcant part of our military budget in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for several years.

    However this is not a one way street. That Taliban remotely controlled bombs, usually detonated by a cannibalised mobile phone is the low tech version – an unmanned suicide bomb if you will & is their most successful weapon. Homemade UAVs are not that far away.

    Also current UAVs are very vulnerable to telecomminications interception. This happend recently when one was captured by the Iranians (probably actually by Chinese operating in Iran). The Chinese have also built a hypersonic UAV which should be able to destroy aircraft carriers with relative ease. If we design our armed forces purely so that they can defeat small low technology states we will deserve a rude awakening.

    Incidentally if we had a spacegoing capacity we could keep our UAVs in line of sight, thereby making elint interception almost impossible and giving real time visuals of the target. But that would require us to have a military designed for the 21st rather than 20thC.

    In this case even UKIP’s policy falls short of the ideal thouggh it is improving and obviously better than the others.

  18. Richard
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Could we borow a USA drone and send it off in search of the dreadful Mugabe?

    Reply You raise an interesting moral question. The west has not so far wished to undertake regime change by assassination of the leader, though the Libya campaign presumably saw the Leader there as a target once they had announced their war like intentions.

  19. Mike
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Having some experience on the ground in Afghan I am also rather uneasy about our use of helicopter gunships.

    Any attempt to win hearts and minds is doomed to failure when multi-million pound weapons systems are deployed against men with nothing more than rifles. The Pashtun have a warrior culture hence troops either using or supported by systems which are seen as cowardly will never gain any empathy. The situation in Afghan is complicated by the indiscriminate use of gunships by the Soviets, all of which is well within living memory.

    Associating members of the Royal family with such attacks is deeply unfortunate in this regards and shows a complete lack of understanding as to how the local population sees the IFOR troops in my opinion.

    Drones are supposedly used in decapitation strikes in Northern Pakistan, however cutting one head off clearly leads to numerous others appearing. As an infantryman I can see no possible way that the restrictive rules of engagement forced upon ground troops could even be hinted at in such raids, despite no immediate threat to life existing.

    It is remarkably difficult to come up with any justification for drone strikes across the Pakistani border other than desperation on the part of the USAF, and possibly the RAF. Even merely overflying without express permission ( the Pakistani govt appears to protest on a regular basis though there is a thought that they do protest too much) would not be justifiable, to use deadly force on the basis of grainy camera shots or phone intercepts is little more than murder.

  20. Ashley
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m minded to believe the worst drones in the UK are the Lib Dems and I agree they should be carefully controlled.

  21. Muddyman
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    It seems we are now assessing the use of Drones for the surveillance of civilian areas within the UK, what happens if it is decided to arm them as Police personnel are now armed (apparently on a whim)?.

  22. Barbara Stevens
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    We all know what the V1-2 did here in the UK, many lost their lives; so we were probably the first nation to suffer such devestation from such weapons, we have now so called ‘drones’. However, he enemy has moved from the traditional soldier to secret war and aims. This means armies are spared large losses. Targets can be pin pointed but also those who help such enemies who reside with them become targets too. Some have no choice I realise that, they are forced to be their, especially women and children. But war does not mean we can choose, its an awful business. We would not have won WW2 with such sentiments, we have to be just as dogged in the war business as the enemy. We know this to our cost. Therefore if drones have to be used so be it.
    Our enemies won’t spare us one thought they would destroy us just like the switch that starts the drone, we must prepare ourselves mentally and technologically to face these ememies for they will use all things against us come what may. War is a messy business, those who start it should be prepared to accept the responsiblity and hurt that comes with it. I just hope we are prepared and not like when WW2 broke out, unprepared.

  23. Bert Young
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Whether we like it or not drones are a valuable source of intelligence ; my understanding is that they are increasingly used in this country for a variety of surveillance purposes including the gathering of meteorological data . Their use in Pakistan have been in support of the military operations in Afghanistan and the result of the frustration of the border terrain between the two countries and the activities of the Taliban across the border . Of course there is the overall moral question of them launching missiles in a country not at war with the Allied Forces in Afghanistan , but , this has to be judged by the inability of Pakistan forces to secure their own borders . Were I a serviceman in Afghanistan , I would expect my C in C to do everything in his power to keep me safe and to defeat the Taliban wherever they are .

  24. Julian
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I think you have slightly underestimated the technology available either now or what will be soon. For example there is no reason why drones can not be sent in groups, they can hover, they can be equipped with high definition video and audio to monitor the results of any attack. They could be parked on or in buildings and they can simulate birds or other animals – this is not sci-fi but reality!

  25. Normandee
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    What is a suicide bomber if not an unsophisticated guided weapon ? and what care do they take over collateral damage when exploding themselves ? as with the drones their “operator” sits in a safe place. We cannot win a war when we are the only side “playing to the rules”, they have no rules, we, it might be said, have too many. Some might say that the politicians preference of putting boots on the ground is putting other peoples children in danger to satisfy their consciences. How many MP’s have children in the armed forces? very few I would suggest.
    There comes a point when you have to equalise the playing field, and take the war to them, it wouldn’t be the first time, what military purpose did the fire bombing of Dresden actually achieve ? We are fighting a proxy war with both Pakistan and Iran on Afghani territory, bombing terrorists in Pakistan from a distance is the only alternative to putting boots on the ground in Pakistan. (If it comes to that why are the drones not bombing Iranian targets ?)
    The real villains in all these scenarios are the politicians, the Iranians Pakistanis and Afghanis are all as bent as a fish hook and are probably pocketing a lot of money out of these wars, we know for certain that the Afghanis government is protecting the poppy fields as their main source of income. Maybe it’s time to take the drones to their parliaments, and then perhaps their targeting will be switched to hit our political targets, then we will see some action.

    Reply: Some of us are saying we should not be fighting a war against Afghanistan or Pakistan.

  26. Pleb
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    And how long will it be before the terorists can use there own drones on us?

  27. Monty
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Why are we deploying any weapon systems, or any troops for that matter, on foreign soil? We only got into these situations as a result of terrorist attacks on the west, and because our governments could not bring themselves to name the real adversary. The fact is that we do have attack drones operating in our territory, their mission is to maximise the attrition rate among innocent civilians, and their leadership, religious encouragement, and funding is coming from Pakistan, the Gulf states, and many other OIC states which routinely masquerade as our allies.

    The first line of defence against these drones, is to stop them arriving and settling here. Enforce our borders please.

  28. Sidney Falco
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    My great concern about the inexorable rise in the use of drones is the distortion of the traditional risk/reward balance when any military activity is considered.

    In traditional military action the politicians had to balance the risks to the armed forces (number dead or injured) against the reward of success of the proposed action.

    Drones have already minimised the risk and, once they become cheaper, will almost eliminate it completely (apart from potential homeland terrorist reprisal attacks caused by the perceived injustice).

    Once we have zero chance of losing “our” troops and our risk becomes only a financial one there will be an increased tendency to use drones. Many armchair generals back home will love this and there is a danger that military action will become routine.

    • Sidney Falco
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      “potential homeland terrorist reprisal attacks”

      I should have omitted homeland from that.

      If I were an aggrieved person at the other end of these drone attacks and decided to take reprisal action against the originators I would simply target tourists near to my homeland. No point in trying to organise a difficult attack in the UK or USA when you could blow up a tourist hotel or tourist bus…

      That is the future if we continue on with these drone attacks…

  29. Jon
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Agreed, I don’t see this as helping the argument for those countries who follow the rule of law to further that influence.

    Their regular use in Yemen, Pakistan and Kashmir could backfire on all of us.

  30. Alistair M.
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood,

    A point on terminology from someone in the industry:

    Pre-programmed missiles of the kind you refer to are mostly called “cruise missiles” rather than flying bombs (an archaic term though a direct ancestor). The term “bomb” is reserved for unpowered weapons falling (or gliding) under gravity. Nowadays bombs are overwhelmingly guided as well; either pre-programmed GPS or TERCON (like cruise missiles), or via a laser designation of the target.

    The terms “drones” refers to remote piloted aircraft, not weapons themselves. These drones are under the control of a human operator (who may be 1000’s of miles away), who pilots it through a video link, and are not pre-programmed in that sense (though they have autopilot for simple navigation and manoeuvres like landing and take off). Some drones are armed with small missiles, other are unarmed and purely for recconaisance.

    Drones, especially armed drones, are generally equipped with excellent sensors; capable of discerning individuals from many kilometers distant. The law of armed conflict, reflected in current western rules of engagement, require a target to be positively identified before weapon can be released, and the environs to have minimal potential for collateral damage. The lawyers are very particular about this, and are literally “looking over the shoulder” of the remote pilot in many instances.

    Which is not to say they get it right all the time, but they do spend a lot of effort trying.

    • Bazman
      Posted November 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      The problem being not a technological one but a political one. Where does the information come from on who to kill. Many axes by many groups to grind, often giving false information for gain and to settle old scores.

      • Alistair M.
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:57 am | Permalink

        That’s true, and a fair point.

        The answer is “various sources”; not just HUMINT. We’re not completely ignorant of the local feuds, you know.

  31. Bazman
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    It’s a crazy situation. We are not at war sot he governments claim but if insurgents are spotted and they spot the helicopter first, then run for cover under a bridge, the bridge is blown up too!

    • Alistair M.
      Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

      Helicopter weaponry wouldn’t destory any but the smallest bridges. Too light.

      You could just shoot anything underneath one to bits with 30mm cannon though. Simples!

      • Bazman
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        You miss the point. 30 mm cannon? Helicopter weaponry? We are not at war? They should be apprehended and arrested if that is the case. Simples? Nitwit.

        • Alistair M.
          Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink


          In the last 40 years, there have been something like >200 annual conflict dyads at the state or sub-state level, as defined by IISS/SPRIO. There have been precisely zero wars declared.

          Resorting to trite legalisms about “war not being declared” is either supremely ignorant or, less charitable, pure sophistry. But of course, you’ve already said enough to reveal that one of us has LOAC training, and the other doesn’t.

          But going along with your idea for the moment, I would welcome your insight into how armed insurgents in a typical lashkar in the lawless NWA can be “apprehended and arrested”. Be sure to include detailed tactics for how you put the cuffs on….

          • Bazman
            Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

            Interesting idea that they can just be killed without judical review. Maybe this idea could be used on the Mexican drug cartels. Or is that a bit close to home?

  32. Tom William
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Sticking to the subject of armed drones, rather than the politics of armed warfare, the undeniable fact is that there is far less collateral damage using drones than aircraft or groundfire. If military action is required drones are the least worse option.

    The reasons for miltary action, or not, is a different topic.

  33. David Jarman
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    LOL, sad people!

  34. David Jarman
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Theres a lot on here you cant mention. I wonder if Mr. Redwood has any idea how much censoring goes on here. If he does, it turns out he’s no better than the rest of them.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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