Armchair Warfare ‘on Terrorism'. On Robots, Targeted Assassinations and Strategic Violations of International Law

Armchair Warfare ‘on Terrorism'. On Robots, Targeted Assassinations and Strategic Violations of International Law

Jutta Weber (University Of Uppsala, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-014-2.ch013
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In the 21st century, militaries are no competing for military dominance through specific superior weapon systems but through networking these systems via information and communication technologies. The ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA) relies on network centric warfare, ‘precision’ weaponry and ‘intelligent’ systems such as uninhabited, modular, globally connected robot systems. While some Western forces (and the U.S. Central Intelligence Service C.I.A.) claim that robots help to avoid the death of one’s soldiers (respectively agents), NGOs point out the increase of killed civilians. In my paper, I discuss the deployment of uninhabited combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) in Western ‘wars on terror’ and their political and techno-ethical consequences. The question arises whether the new military philosophy, network centric (armchair) warfare, targeted assassinations and robot technology work towards the weakening of international humanitarian law.
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Killer Robots Targeting Civilians?

Today, UCAVs are deployed by the US and the NATO militaries in the war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and by the Israel military for targeted killings in Palestinian occupied territories.

The deployment of new robotic technologies for aerial attacks intensified massively in the last years (Cordesman, 2008; Fischer, 2008; Singer, 2009; Weber, 2009)1 and the number of killed civilians is rising (UN News Center 2009). Especially interesting is also the deployment of US drones in Pakistan, where not only the military but also the C.I.A. operates uninhabited combat aerial vehicles: “it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the C.I.A. program's secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war.” (Mayer 2009, 39)

Estimates of killed civilians differ widely. According to the survey of Peter Bergen and Katherine Thiedemann from the think tank ‘The New America Foundation’ 82 drone attacks were undertaken in Pakistan between January 2006 and mid October 2009 in which between 750 – 1000 people were killed. Bergen and Thiedemann (2009) estimate that 250 – 320 of these had been civilians (31-33%). ‘The News’ – a Pakistani newspaper – reported in April 2009: “Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians.” (Mir 2009, np). There are diverse counts of killed civilians in Pakistan as official numbers are not available and Pakistan’s tribal areas have become largely forbidden terrain for media organizations.

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