Théorie du drone

From Geographical Imaginations Theory of the drone 2: Hunting

The whole thing is worth reading but I was struck by this:
But Chamayou argues that this political technology is far more ‘economical’ than Bentham’s Panopticon, which Foucault uses so powerfully to figure modern surveillance, because it requires neither spatial partitions nor architectural demarcations. It is what Zygmunt Bauman might call a ‘liquid’ technology, since it needs only airspace to function (though the current interest in A2/AD (‘anti-access/areal denial’) is a sharp reminder that at present – and even for the foreseeable future – Predators and Reapers can only hunt in uncontested air space).And even more unlike the Panopticon, this political technology is not directed towards enclosure or confinement. Just as the Gorgon’s stare petrified its enemies to death, turning them into stone, so this too is a deadly gaze. Video feeds trigger missile launches: ‘No longer surveillir et punir butsurveiller et anéantir’ (annihilation) (p. 67).
(Incidentally, how far the US will continue to fund some of these systems is unclear: recent reportssuggest that the Pentagon is scaling back its funding for the Gorgon Stare, but the Air Force is still promoting the ARGUS-IS as its next-generation sensor technology).

The shadows cast by these capacities are far longer than the supposedly ‘precision strikes’ they facilitate: they impose a new landscape of threat and dread. Here Chamayou invokes the Stanford/NYU report Living under drones (2012) to conclude that the presence of Predators and Reapers terrifies whole populations who live under them (see also my commentary here). Above and beyond the deaths and physical injuries they inflict, and the rubble, the rage and the bereavements they produce, Chamayou concludes that drones also produce ‘a psychic enclosure whose boundaries are no longer defined by bars, barriers or walls but by the invisible circles described overhead by the ceaseless gyrations of these flying sentinels’ (literally, ‘watch-towers’).
That'll have JJH browsing eBay for AA kit.
And Theory of the drone 4: Pennies from Heaven
For this reason Chamayou suggests that the drone effects a sort of détournement on the strategies and weapons of the insurgent-terrorist – the skirmish and the ambush, the IED and the suicide bomb – to become what he calls, through this radical reversal, ‘the weapon of State terrorism’. Its short-lived engagements happen without warning and target individuals without compunction.
And yet, for all its technological sophistication, Chamayou insists that this is not a new strategy. Military historians ought to look further back, he suggests, to the policies of colonial ‘air control’ developed in the inter-war period (the image below shows a bomb dropped by the RAF on Sulaimaniyah in Iraq on 27 May 1924: more here). He develops this argument in a later chapter, where he describes the drone as ‘the weapon of an amnesiac post-colonial violence’ (p. 136): a postcolonialism that has forgotten – or suppressed – its own wretched history.

Indeed it has. The twenty-first century version of counterinsurgency has made much of the iconic, inspirational figure of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. But as I’ve argued in ‘DisOrdering the Orient’ (DOWNLOADS tab):
‘… long before he resigned his Army commission and re-enlisted in the Royal Air Force as Aircraftsman Ross, [Lawrence] had been drawn to the wide open spaces of the sky as well as those of the desert. Patrick Deer suggests that in Lawrence’s personal mythology ‘air control in the Middle East offered a redemptive postscript to his role in the Arab Revolt of 1916-18’. He imagined the Arab Revolt ‘as a kind of modernist vortex,’ Deer argues, fluid and dynamic, ‘without front or back,’ and in Seven Pillars he recommended ‘not disclosing ourselves till we attack.’ To Lawrence, and to many others at the time, the intimation of a nomadic future war gave air power a special significance. ‘What the Arabs did yesterday,’ he wrote, ‘the Air Forces may do tomorrow – yet more swiftly.’ As Priya Satia has shown, this rested not only on a military Orientalism that distinguished different ways of war but also on a cultural Orientalism that represented bombing as signally appropriate to the people of these lands. This was, minimally, about intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. ‘According to this perverse logic’, Satia explains, ‘the RAF’s successful persecution of a village testified to their intimacy with the people on the ground, without which they would not have been able to strike it accurately.’ More than this, however, ‘the claim to empathy ultimately underwrote the entire air control system with its authoritative reassurances that bombardment was a tactic that would be respected and expected in this unique land.’ From this perspective, Satia continues, Arabs saw bombing as ‘pulling the strings of fate from the sky.’ They understood it ‘not as punishment,’ Lawrence informed his readers, ‘but as misfortune from heaven striking the community.’ And if women and children were killed in the process that was supposedly of little consequence to them: what mattered were the deaths of ‘the really important men.’’

As far as I know, Lawrence has not been invoked by any of the contemporary advocates of airpower in counterinsurgency – though he has been called ‘Lawrence of Airpower‘ – but many of these formulations and their successors, translated into an ostensibly more scientific vocabulary, reappear in contemporary debates about the deployment of drones in counterinsurgency.
In fact, Meilinger had conceded the relevance of these historical parallels. ‘It would be useful to revisit the “air control” operations employed by the Royal Air Force in the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s,’ he wrote. ‘These operations were not always successful in objective military terms, but they were unusually successful in political terms, in part because they carried a low cost in both financial and casualty terms’ (my emphasis).
That is an extraordinary sentence, although Chamayou doesn’t quote it, because what is missing from the air power advocates’ view (so Chamayou argues) is – precisely – an apprehension of thepolitics of counterinsurgency in general and air strikes in particular. Indeed, when the imaginary conjured up by Lawrence and his successors reappears in contemporary debates it is entered on both sides of the ledger: not only as economical and effective but also as cowardly and counter-productive. Here is Colonel Keen, complaining about the bombing of Pashtun villages on the North West Frontier in 1923:
‘By driving the inhabitants of the bombarded area from their homes in a state of exasperation, dispersing them among neighbouring clans and tribes with hatred in their hearts at what they consider ‘‘unfair’’ methods of warfare … [these attacks] bring about the exact political results which it is so important in our own interests to avoid, viz., the permanent embitterment and alienation of the frontier tribes.’
Both Chamayou and I cite this passage, and you can find more about the colonial bombing of Waziristan in a previous post (scroll down).
Worth reading in full.

The politics of this is interesting. It's almost inevitable that drones will pepper the skies above our cities. They will eventually hunt "bad guys" including US citizens domestically as they do abroad. Arguments will be made for economy and public safety and in a moment of panic like the one after 9-11 they will trump old ideas of privacy and freedom.

A technology that provides continuous surveillance even in great open spaces. It'll soon be equally capable of snooping at windows or beneath tree cover in a largely autonomous way. With the lingering threat of death from on high in some cases. All patterns of association and ID collated for target selection and held in The Cloud.

This is becoming the great jealous sky God of the bronze age Bible. Invisible, ever watchful of the sinful and disobedient. Judging and finding guilt by the trail of social interactions individuals leave. Finally capable of preemptively smiting the unrighteous and their kith and kin with omnipotent force. Submit for it is proper to praise Him.

It's a bit like the moment at the end of the Dark Ages when a bunch of armored mounted thugs turn up build a motte-and-bailey castle, herd the bewildered paysans from their scattered farms into easily surveilled and heavily taxed concentrations that would come to be called villages. And they would come to accept their new masters as chivalrous Lords as they are easily made fearful of the other out beyond their parish.
Another snippet Theory of the drone 5: Vulnerabilities
(2) Re-purposing: Drones can be adapted for civilian use – they have been used to monitor herds of caribou and to track the progress of wild fires – and there is a rapidly expanding market for small DIY drones amongst geeks and hobbyists. As Chamayou notes, after reading about the US Army’s small RQ-11 surveillance drone evenFrancis Fukyama built his own small surveillance drone in his backyard in February 2012. What he doesn’t report, though, is the string of questions that Fukuyama raised in one of his early accounts of the project (Fukuyama now has three drones; updates including video here and here):
‘What will the world look like when not just the US but many other countries around the world operate fleets of drones; and when powerful, sophisticated drones are owned by lots of private individuals? What would our attitude be if our enemies could pick off visiting dignitaries as they stepped off the aeroplane in a supposedly friendly country, or attack soldiers in their bases in Europe or Asia? Or if Americans became vulnerable in Florida or New York? Drones might become an inexpensive delivery vehicle for terrorists or rogue states that can’t afford to deliver payloads in ballistic missiles. Some of the remotely controlled aeroplanes that hobbyists build are a third to half the size of their full-scale counterparts. As the technology becomes cheaper and more commercially available, moreover, drones may become harder to trace; without knowing their provenance, deterrence breaks down. A world in which people can be routinely and anonymously targeted by unseen enemies is not pleasant to contemplate.’
The last sentence is pretty rich: the world Fukuyama envisages is already a reality for thousands of people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, and they have to do rather more than ‘contemplate’ it.
Still, these are Chamayou’s questions too. It is precisely the proliferation, diffusion and and above all the down-sizing and down-marketing of small drones that interest him. If they can be ‘demilitarised’ for civilian uses, including Fukuyama’s photographic obsessions, then he contends that it’s perfectly possible for them to be ‘re-militarised’ at remarkably low cost to constitute what Eugene Miasnikov was already calling six years ago ‘an army of suicide bombers on steroids’. This may well be true – and, in a different vein, since October 2012 there have been (conflicting) reports of Israel shooting down two Iranian-made Hezbollah drones, so their adoption by non-state actors seems to be in train already – but it’s still a far cry from the hi-tech world of Predators and Reapers and the globalised killing machine for which they act as spears....
You wrote that you think the government will make personal drones illegal. Do you think this is likely given the commercial market?

Actually, the government is in the process of liberalizing the rules concerning the commercial use of drones because they are so useful in police work, real estate, the movie industry, and other fields. It will probably take one of these drones smacking into an airliner or photographing Angela Jolie in the nude before there is a reaction.
Lately there's been a not entirely unwarranted surge of paranoia on the US right about the domestic use of drone technology. However as UAVs move into private hands might we hear talk of the right to bear drones?

The technology isn't quite there yet, the article above points to the large teams needed to run military drones but things will get steadily more autonomous and also cheaper. At some point they'll get used for locating game. Next step is mounting a firearm on them for pest control from the comfort of your LazyBoy recliner. In this sci-fi world craggy old Sarah Palin could be hunting wolves with a UAV. Before you know it'll be status item and statement of freedom to have armed semi-autonomous drones floating around your ranch/gated compound and humming over the hoodies of approaching "urban types" just as The Founders intended.

Well the paintballers are experimenting:
And Deer Hunting With Drones? points to some legal hurdles, darn those Feds.
From Theory of the drone 8: From invisibility to vulnerability
Faced with this storm of criticism, Chamayou suggests, military ethicists have found it necessary to erect an altogether different version of virtuous war. If the drone is to be considered ‘virtuous’, several writers have argued, it is first and foremost because it rules out the possibility of casualties on ‘our’ side. Chamayou will have more to say about this in a later chapter on combatant immunity, but for now he finds confirmation in a Ministry of Defence report on The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems in 2011 that, even as it acknowledged the ethical issues involved in abandoning the combatant’s privilege, nevertheless concluded that ‘use of unmanned aircraft prevents the potential loss of aircrew lives and is thus in itself morally justified.’Statements like this bring into view an ongoing transformation from an ethic of sacrifice and courage to an ethic of auto-preservation (and, Chamayou adds, of cowardice): a sort of Revolution in Moral-Military Affairs. The scale of traditional values is reversed, and in an Orwellian inversion words come to mean their opposite. What used to be called cowardice is now called bravery, assassination becomes combat, and the spirit of sacrifice is turned into an object of opprobrium. In Chamayou’s view we are witnessing not so much ‘virtue-less war’ as a vast operation to re-define the ‘virtues’ of war.

Chamayou fastens on the the Pentagon proposal late last year to award combat medals to drone operators. Finally announcing the Distinguished Warfare Medal in February 2013, the Pentagon issued this statement:
Modern technology enables service members with special training and capabilities to more directly and precisely impact military operations at times far from the battlefield. The Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded in the name of the secretary of defense to service members whose extraordinary achievements, regardless of their distance to the traditional combat theater, deserve distinct department-wide recognition.
“I have seen first-hand how modern tools like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems have changed the way wars can be fought,” said Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta. “We should also have the ability to honor extraordinary actions that make a true difference in combat operations, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight.”
The proposal set off a firestorm of protest in Congress and within the Air Force and online military forums. It was withdrawn for review in less than a month and rescinded by Panetta’s successor in April.
The saga doesn’t quite do the work Chamayou wants it to do. He uses it to reflect on the meaning of ‘bravery in combat’ – after all, he asks, what can bravery mean in circumstances ‘physically removed from the fight’? – but the Pentagon statement made it clear that the medal was to be awarded ‘for actions in any domain but not involving acts of valor.’
Still, this does not diminish the force of Chamayou’s main line of inquiry. From the testimony of drone operators, he concludes that bravery consists not in them putting their lives on the line but in seeing the consequences of their actions online. Drone crews are supposed to be so deeply affected by the high-resolution full-motion video feeds from their Predators and Reapers, which show in intimate detail the corporeal results of the strikes for which they are responsible, that they become highly vulnerable to Post-Traumatic Sress Disorder. Traditionally bravery involved putting your physical body in danger; Chamayou says that it now it seems to involve putting your psychic being at risk.
This amounts to the elevation of what he calls a ‘purely psychic heroism’. In previous wars the soldier was both the vector of violence and its potential victim, because the reciprocity of combat called on warriors to be at once executioner and potential victim. Today the remote warrior is still required to be the executioner, but he can also become the psychological victim of his duty as executioner.

Chamayou is troubled by this for two reasons.
First, the idea of psychic vulnerability – of the damage inflicted on soldiers by the trauma of killing – was given form and substance in the First World War. In 1915 Jane Addams (above) – who will, I suspect, be known to most human geographers for her other achievements, particularly her work at Hull House in Chicago – returned from the International Congress of Women at the Hague to deliver a stunning address at Carnegie Hall on “The Revolt against War”. In it, Chamayou tells us, she spoke of nurses treating ‘delirious soldiers [who] are again and again possessed by the same hallucination – that they are in the act of pulling their bayonets out of the bodies of men they have killed’, and of five young soldiers who committed suicide ‘not because they were afraid of being killed but because they were afraid they might be put into a position where they would have to kill someone else.’ To overcome these inhibitions, she noted, soldiers were routinely given a shot of rum before they went over the top. Addams used these testimonies to develop a courageous and principled critique of military violence, and in 1931 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read her Peace and Bread in time of war here). To Chamayou’s evident disgust, the trauma of war that Addams and others exposed is now being recycled into a legitimation of targeted killing. Like a snake eating its tail, trauma is being mobilised to restore to war the ethico-heroic temper Addams insisted it had lost through trauma.
But, second, as I’ll show in the next post in this series, Chamayou is deeply sceptical of what he calls ‘the psychopathologies of the drone’.
One last comment before I go. I don’t think the deployment of armed drones is provoking a wholesale transformation of military ethics, because that would be to absolutise their use. The Air Force still flies conventional strike aircraft, troops are still deployed on the ground (including Special Forces) and – as the controversy over the medal confirms – the Pentagon still insists on a difference between distinguished service and bravery. I don’t mean that drones do not raise serious ethical questions; of course they do, and I am dismayed at how often these are trumped by arguments about the legality of military violence. But military violence takes many different forms, and it’s important not to lose sight of the larger killing fields in which drones are embedded.

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