Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK talks about the current state of the technology, the march to lethal autonomous warfare, and the absolute secrecy and lack of democratic scrutiny around the developing drone program
CHRIS COLE: My name’s Chris Cole. I work with an organization called Drone Wars UK, which does research and education and campaigning around the use of armed drones. Autonomous weapons are the next stage of warfare. Autonomous weapons take out, if you like, the humanity, the human involved in the kill chain. And drones, if you like, are a gateway technology for the introduction of lethal autonomous weapons. We’re seeing the major companies now investing heavily in developing autonomous killer drones, while both the US and the UK say they don’t want this technology and can not envisage it being used, their companies, particularly BAE Systems are pushing ahead because they don’t believe that the countries won’t want this technology once it’s developed. We’ve seen that time and time again over history, that once the technology’s developed, it’s incredibly for countries not to use it. So, we are inevitably going to see autonomous weapons being used unless we campaign vigorously now to stop it. I think most people know and understand now that drones are being sold to us as “The New Way to Wage War,” undertaking remote controlled strikes from the safety of air conditioned bunkers thousands of miles away from the battlefield. Drones, we’re told, enables us to undertake clean and precise warfare that simply takes out the bad guys. Drones, we’re told, are changing the nature of war. War is no longer the hell it once was because of that technology. But that’s nonsense, of course. Casualty recording organizations, journalists are repeatedly showing that drones causing civilian casualties where they’re being used. We’re seeing drones being used right around the globe now, both by the traditional uses, if you like, the US, Israel and the UK, but also there’s a second wave of users now, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, all these countries are now choosing and opting to use military force because they have drones available. Governments aren’t at all being transparent about the development of this technology and the use of this technology. It’s one of the things that we’ve been working on. We took the government to court recently through an FOI Tribunal because they refused to say how many of Britain’s drones are being deployed, even though they will quite happily give the number of manned, piloted aircraft deployed on operations. They’re refusing to give details about the number of British drones deployed, and that’s because they want to use them covertly, they want to use them outside of the battlefield, outside of declared wars, both for surveillance operations and also for targeted killing operations. So, there is a great deal of secrecy around the use of armed drones. There is a great deal of push towards legitimizing warfare and part of that is keeping the reality of warfare away from the public. Over the last century or so, we’ve seen a great deal of antipathy towards war, where it was once considered glorious and heroic, and increasingly, throughout the 20th century, the public have been turned against war and drones and autonomous weapons and remote warfare, unmanned systems, are all part of a push to rehabilitate war, if you like. The public do not like to see young men and women sent overseas, only to come back in wheelchairs or body bags, so unmanned systems are being used. And this is increasing the distance, if you like, between the public’s understanding of the reality of war overseas and their understanding and knowledge of it. So for instance, we see very little detail about the use of armed drones. The government are constantly saying that despite there have been more than 3,000 bombs and missiles fired in Iraq and Syria over the last 2 1/2 years, there hasn’t been a single casualty, nobody killed or injured in British bombing, and that’s absolute nonsense. But this is part of the idea of rehabilitating war and making it more acceptable to the public again. There are a number of now professional lobby organizations working on behalf of the drone industry, but basically it’s the main big military companies behind it. In terms of drones, that’s General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and our old friend, BAE Systems. They are the ones who are developing and pushing drones as this new means of war, and they are actively lobbying at the moment to what they call relax or to erode controls, particularly on the export and proliferation of drones and particularly around the development of autonomous weapons, which is the next stage in warfare technology. All of the big companies, in particular the big drone companies are at DSEI. Some of them are obviously showing their new drones, but it’s also a question of lobbying and discussing with senior military officials, defense civil servants, not just from the UK, but around the globe. They all come together at DSEI every two years, and it’s a perfect opportunity for the drones lobby to push their agenda. Yes, so people can get involved in campaigning against the growing use of armed drones through our organization, dronewars.net, but there’s also the Drone Campaign Network, which is a network of national organizations and local groups who are campaigning locally and nationally, focused particularly on transparency and challenging the fact that these drones are being deployed without accountability overseas. So do get involved with our campaign, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Control, through the Drone Campaign Network.