The popular opinion of drones is largely negative, and yet despite a lack of public support for their acquisition and use, governments around the world are swiftly developing and purchasing this technology.
There are many articles questioning the legal and ethical rationale for the use of killer drones and there are further concerns regarding increased autonomy and robot decision-making. Whilst there are certainly those who espouse the opposing view (that using drones for targeted killing is more proportional and ethical than other options), the majority seem to be concerned by the potential negative consequences. The ironic counterpoint to this is that as fast as the public can condemn the use of drone strikes, their governments are buying up supplies.
Whilst the US owns more drones than anyone else and currently makes the most use of them, there are many other countries joining the fray:
- Iran recently celebrated the development a of its new ‘stealth’ drone (albeit one painted in Red, Green and White in newspapers).
- The Guardian reported that Israel is the largest exporter of drones, with half of its exports going to Europe (including the UK).
- The German defence minister is under fire for scrapping his country’s drone project, whilst simultaneously trying to respond to the Anti-Drone campaign there.
- Australia is said to be “stocking up” on US drones.
- China’s drone program, widely reported on, has sparked questions about strategic challenge to the US and increased questions about the possibility of an “arms race”.
- Russia has announced that “Russian paratrooper divisions will receive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) within the next three to five years”.
Drone Wars UK identifies 31 countries who have drones, although notes that this does not include secret drones or micro drones, and a US Congressional report states that 76 countries have or are in the process of developing the necessary hard and software. Clearly, the technology is proliferating rapidly, its popularity amongst military and political leaders is obvious but it remains to be seen whether this represents the international arms race some commentators are claiming (See example sources listed below).
Whilst governments and militaries are accumulating unmanned vehicles (both with fire power and without), research by the Pew Research Center indicates that their civilian populations are far from supporting these acquisitions. The report notes “In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. “ (with the US being the most significant outlier) and that “The strongest disapproval was registered in Greece (90%), Egypt (89%), Jordan (85%), Turkey (81%), Spain (76%), Brazil (76%) and Japan (75%)”, demonstrating that the opposition is not amongst a small “anti-war” minority but widely spread across the populations of these countries. Interestingly Greece, Jordan, Turkey, Spain and Brazil are amongst those identified by the US Congressional Report as possessing drones, demonstrating the gulf between the public opinion and the actions of governments.
There are a range of national and international groups whose aims are to highlight the evils that they perceive with use of drones. In the UK: Drone Wars UK, in Germany: Drohnen-Kampagne, in the USA and Pakistan: DronesWatch, and also in the US: Network to Stop Drone Surveillance and Warfare to name a few. However despite the efforts of these organisations, the question remains, will the force of public opinion be strong enough to reach the ears of the leaders making the military decisions, and is listening to these voices (in preference to those focused on strategic outcomes) the right thing to do?
US Congressional Report: http://dronewarsuk.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/us-gao-_-noproliferation-of-uavs.pdf
Arms race: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/sunday-review/coming-soon-the-drone-arms-race.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/sunday-review/coming-soon-the-drone-arms-race.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0