Why the peace movement must confront the rise of drones
The rise in the use of armed unmanned drones of the past few years has been incredible. Between 2004 and 2007 there were just nine drones strikes in the world. Three years later there were at least 110 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, and recently released USAF figures show there have now been more than 1,000 US drone strikes in Afghanistan, with those numbers set to rise dramatically.
The UK too has been operating armed Reaper drones in Afghanistan and has launched at least 350 drone strikes there, while Israel too have been using drones to launch strikes in Gaza and Egypt.
Drones have become the latest way to wage war.
While supporters claim that drone strikes are 'risk free', 'precise' or 'pin-point accurate', the reality is that thousands of people have been killed in these strikes.
In Pakistan, due to the presence of local media we have some idea about the impact of drones. Reliable figures compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism show that between 2,500 and 3,500 people have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. While the US claims that few of these are civilians, the Bureau reports that at least 450-900 of these are identified civilians, including around 200 children. It is likely that many more are in fact civilians.
In Afghanistan, where British and US drones operate, it is not publicly known how many people have been killed. The UK claims that only four civilians have been killed in all their 360 drone strikes, while insisting they do not actually know how many people have died in total.
A recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found that Israeli drones had killed Palestinian civilians and violated the laws of war.
Why are drones so dangerous?
Armed drone are operated by remote control often from thousands of miles away. Pilots sit in air-conditioned trailers and operate drones in the skies above Afghanistan or Yemen for example, via satellite links. Using hi-tech cameras and other sensors young men and women engage in eight-hour shifts of warfare, looking for 'suspicious activity' before launching Hellfire missiles or 500lb bombs on unsuspecting targets far below. With their shift over, the pilots head home, perhaps picking up the kids up from school on the way, before settling down to play the latest XBox war game. War is truly becoming like a video game.
While supporters of drones argue they are no different to other aircraft, the reality is that drones lower the threshold when it comes to warfare. Firstly, as there is no risk to 'our boys' political leaders will be able to launch military intervention at little or no political cost. Although we are early in the drone war era, the US for instance has already used armed drones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. There have also been airstrike in Mali and the Philippines that have the hallmarks of US drone strikes but these have not been confirmed.
But drones also turn the whole world into a battlefield where nowhere is safe. Far away from any front the US uses drones to assassinate those it sees as threats to its security and interests, choosing to ignore international law and international condemnation. But drones are also expanding the battlefield even within conflict zones, as politicians and military commanders have such faith in the perceived accuracy of these unmanned systems that they are much more willing to use them in civilian areas. In short drone are 'normalising' war and simply making war more likely.
Say no to the drone wars – come to Waddington April 27
Currently RAF pilots operate Britain's armed drones over Afghanistan from a US base just outside Las Vegas in Nevada. From this Spring however, push-button warfare will have a new home as the UK will begin controlling their armed Reaper drones from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
To protest this latest step in the drone wars, Stop the War, CND, War and Want and the Drone Campaign Network are calling on people to march on RAF Waddington on Saturday 27 April. We want to raise our voices to say a loud and clear 'No to the Drone Wars'.
We will gather at Lincoln Train Station at Noon and march to the base for a rally at 2pm. Please do come and urge others to come too. Now is the time to stop the rise of the drone – before it's too late.