Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:51 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:51 | SYDNEY

Drone war: Evolution, not revolution


Sam Roggeveen


8 November 2011 11:20

The responses from Crispin Rovere and Nic Maclellan to my post about drone warfare contain so many straw men that they risk turning The Interpreter into a fire hazard. A few points in response.

First, there is an elementary distinction to be made between an improved situation and an ideal situation. I argued that precision-guidance represents a moral advance in the conduct of warfare; it is progress, not an absolute ideal. Nic Maclellan points out that a lot of civilians are still being killed, even though drones are in widespread use. That's a tragedy, of course, but I would argue its a smaller tragedy than one which might have been suffered before the age of precision guidance. So yes, that is a significant moral advance. 

Nic also says The Interpreter displays a '"toys for the boys"' enthusiasm for precision guided missiles'. If that's directed at me, then I'll go so far as to admit to being an aviation enthusiast. But it's hard to make the case that this influences my political analysis: I'm an advocate for lower Australian defence spending, I want Australia to defer purchases of high-tech fighters, and I was against the Libya operation.

But given the Libya operation did go ahead, better it be conducted as cleanly and justly as possible. Drones and precision-guided weapons helped NATO to do this.

The fact that drones allow warfighters to 'get up in the morning, drive 40 minutes to your office in Nevada, kill large numbers of people, then race to pick up the kids from the school' is a less profound shift than Crispin believes. We entered the age of the intercontinental ballistic missile and the long-range bomber decades ago.

Crispin also thinks it's morally significant that '(d)rone pilots lead a relatively normal life within their local community, even during active campaigns'. But if that's his standard, then presumably he would argue for the removal of other signs of domestic normalcy from the battlefield, just to drive home to soldiers, statesmen and citizens that war is hell. No more Pizza Hut and Burger King at Bagram Air Base. Care packages and letters from home would also be out.

Photo by Flickr user Defence Images.