Monday, July 18, 2011

Focus on Peace: "War of the Killer Robots"

The stance of Brian Terrell's article, "War of the Killer robots" is made clear on the connexions website through the use of this quote from the article, "Drones are "killer robots," they do make war easy and game-like, and therefore likelier, drone strikes do kill too many civilians and they do violate the International Law of Armed Conflict. I am puzzled and disturbed that some feel that the debate over the use of drones in warfare can be enhanced by denying these facts". This segment of Terrell's article summarizes the entire piece.

For those of you - like me - who are unaware what drones truly are here is a definition: Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in military parlance, are unpiloted aircraft controlled remotely. Equipped with sophisticated sensors, they are used for reconnaissance and attack. When armed, drones are referred to as Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs).

In a nutshell Terrell is making a comment on a past article "published on June 7, 2011, in Foreign Policy, Don't Fear the Reaper, four misconceptions about how we think about drones, Charli Carpenter and Lina Shaikhouni. In reality Terrell is disagreeing with Carpenter, and Shaikhouni's article because it is "misleading" the public. He breaks down the four ultimate misconceptions that result from their article.

"Misconception" No. 1: Drones Are "Killer Robots." It is often assumed that even though a weapon has the power of killing they do not kill constantly, and therefore cannot be labelled a killer. This point is made in Carpenter and Shaikhouni's as well as the fact that robots are not "autonomous" and so because someone has to control them they cannot be called "killer robots". Terrell counters this by stating the definition of what a robot is from two sources. Terrell states, "The concept that a drone would need to be autonomous in order to qualify as a robot appears to be the authors' own and it does not seem to be responsible to allow their novel construction to form the parameters of this debate. Nor is it comprehensible that calling these killer robots for what they are "is preventing public attention from being directed to a more ground-breaking development in military technology".

"Misconception" No. 2: Drones Make War Easy and Game-Like, and Therefore Likelier. It is assumed by Terrell that Carpenter and Shaikhouni suggest technological advancements in weaponry has not made war easy and likelier. However, this is disproved not only by Terrell, but by the community of activists that gathered at Creech Air Force Base in April, 2009: "Technological advances may reduce the danger of casualties among the military personnel in the short run, but with each advance the number of civilian deaths multiplies and every war of the past century has numbered more children than soldiers among its victims." Terrell concludes his point by opening the last paragraph with a comparison between politicians and soldiers. Of course drone warfare is hard on the soldiers, but it makes it easier for "politicians and generals who call the shots and so it does make war likelier".

"Misconception" No. 3: Drone Strikes Kill Too Many Civilians. The issue that Terrell has with this misconception is this, "Carpenter and Shaikhouni see the choice as between using troops and manned bombers or using drones; they do not consider any nonlethal possibility". Both writers do not take peace into consideration, or as a pliable option because it is unknown as to how many pedestrians have actually been killed as a result of drones at war. Terrell disagrees basically because "it is well documented and it is even, under pressure, admitted by the US government that many civilians are killed in drone strikes".

"Misconception" No. 4: Drones Violate the International Law of Armed Conflict. In the opinion of Carpenter and Shaikhouni drones DO NOT violate the international law of armed conflict. Terrell simply states that, "this claim that drones do not violate international law of armed conflict can only be made by taking them out of context, by divorcing the drones from their intended use". And he further proves his argument by comparing these two authors to that of the Bush administration; and makes a powerful point.

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