There is much hype over drones – to such a degree we might do more to catchphrase ‘drone porn‘. The government, corporate media, and private companies are all desperate to use them and activist and professional opposition quick to highlight their use in mass killings. Meanwhile a productive group of hobbyists are fervently making their own drones with deep knowledge, plenty of time and much money; you can even purchase toy predator drones for children. Some entering the debate have no sense of perspective; a drone is merely an intrusion into their privacy as if the ‘police state’ did not exist decades ago. Where groups converge is on the knowledge that unmanned autonomous aerial vehicles are the future of government control and government sanctioned violence, although apparently some in the upper echelons of the armed forces need to catch up. Drones are cost efficient and reduce human risks while providing intelligence and firepower for their masters. In fact Palestinians are so accustomed to the literal buzz of drones that they call them ‘zenana’, ‘buzz’. The rich hobbyists may whiff of a secluded geek stereotype but rest assured this will not be for long with artists and Hollywood eager to get creative with drones. Meanwhile gamers are also in on the fast-paced route to acceptance, in case they cannot tell the difference between reality and fiction as some assume, they have the option to buy a remote control drone as well as play with one in game. This is precisely why the opposition to drones should not purely rely on the tool itself, such an approach is doomed to failure and misses the more significant issue that drones embody; joint corporate-government collaboration. Even the tiring Amnesty International and the RAF can recognise that policies for drones already exist in the form of International Law. Yep, even the most simple of graphics show the increase use of drones, and this only going to continue.
Drones are a hyper-technological leap forward and like an iPhone concerns over ethics and morality will not curtail usage. Forget weapons capability consider the intelligence capability of a 1.8 giga-pixel surveillance drone that is capable of displaying 6-inch objects at 20,000 feet, twenty-four hours a day. Manufacturing industries have proven to be loyal only to gross wealth and are able to seduce policymakers when they need to. At the same time neoliberal governments chase cuts and privatisation in all areas, UAVs allow them to do this more aggresively with their militaries, as such it is clear that the corporate media will serve more as advertisements for drones – including documentaries, note the funder of this ‘infomercial’. Consequently drones win the media debate because they set the terms and conditions; they are eco-friendly and may even be able to provide routes to ‘peace’ in some of the world’s truly complex arenas of violence (update). When courts of law are willing to ignore processes of justice in favour of maintaining the status quo then we should be thinking about new methods and fresh perspectives; such re-evaluation should start at home. The dirty work of governments in known and unknown acts of violence was being conducted on mass scales before the existence of drones; UAVs do not enable something new in terms of violence that cannot be defended against but rather in terms of collaboration. As such we need to avoid misinterpretations of the debate and unpack the greater danger and significance of drones.
Blackwater (Xe) can dominate focus on private military companies, and for good reason, but this is a rapidly expanding industry – in number and responsibility. Some on the international scene were able to predict this return and with governments having observed testing grounds around the world, perhaps most horrifically in Iraq, have unsympathetically decided to privatise overseas adventures in imperialism as well as domestic affairs including policing in Lancaster (almost), prisons, and disaster relief. Sustained analysis is virtually non-existent and popular debate is not considered. Despite the Montreux Document (2008), reaffirming that outsourcing to private militias is illegal, nation states are pressing on; consequently controversy is constructed around whether corporations are regarded as ‘civilian’ and thereby exempt from the Geneva Conventions. Because private military companies are not officially allowed to be directly involved in hostilities the terminology is simply adjusted to ‘defensive support’ despite occupying ultra-sensitive areas and being responsible for direct hostilities. Highlighted best by the Aegis involvement in Sierra Leone where the company broke the UN arms embargo but continued to get government contracts. This video makes the situation seem very complicated, at the same time the speaker highlights key words ‘support’ and ‘backup’ but the very fact that a State outsources to Blackwater is illegal; listen to the whole video numerous innocents murdered but the company is not accountable and definitely not the state. This is not a stand-alone incident. Responsibility is removed from the State, is removed from the corporation, and placed firmly with individuals. It’s a cosy relationship with whoever it is in power, the only problem is when corporations get ideas of takeover… and get found out as in Equatorial Guinea.
The image of private military companies is the very embodiment of colonialism; just look at Anthony Sharp – the photograph reeks of nostalgia for Empire’s finest sorting out the natives and doing the Motherland proud. It’s not just the look of such mercenaries unless we forget the likes of the British East India Company and the Dutch East Indies Company – corporate-government enterprises to protect profits and exploit the vulnerable. Hence they continue the tradition of European imperialism, and of course racism remains paramount. If there are any doubts just watch the first two minutes of Shadow Company. It is envisioned that each of the ships in Sharp’s private navy will consist of sixty crewmen, the majority being ex-Royal Navy and ex-Royal Marines. Meanwhile before Sharp set up Typhon he was not on the seas or in the military but investing in online media outlets. We often hear of ‘corruption within international development while in the domestic sphere we change the vocabulary to ‘expenses’ or in the case of private military companies we call it ‘fraud’. The extension to continued colonialism is clear as with drone bombings in the Yemen, authorised by Obama but to hide issues of legality Yemen claim responsibility. Consequently we can see that it is not a purely collaboration between corporate-government partners that is evolving but also between national-global powers.
If we consider the researchers who developed and solidified drones we can see that those at the cutting edge have moved on. They have proven their technical worth and now seek to harness new tactical capabilities. Even a brief flurry at three consecutive and major research projects will reveal that by the third drones are no longer the major concern. Jointly funded by government and corporate agencies Argus, Aladdin and Orchid reveal the ‘game structure’ of progress. As one researcher confirms, the goal now is to enable computer systems to facilitate humans to make better decisions. As such UAVs are neoliberalism’s perfect tool enabling governments to assume control while distributing responsibility to corporate partners. Defence departments maintain intelligence and firepower while directing private armies in the field, thereby reducing costs and their own human risks – official casualty figures drop away. We cannot hold drones accountable, we should seek to hold companies and policymakers responsible and stop the passage of wealth and duty to corporate partners. Otherwise we may very well witness the day when media must report a ‘war in Afghanistan as sponsored by G4S’ while the return of war dead is sponsored by Barclays.
If you have followed me this far allow me to venture a little more. This reinterpretation of the significance of drones is an attempt to set the agenda on positive and progressive terms, although it does not mention so explicitly the killings of innocents, they are of primary concern but for many of us there is no direct way to help them now. But would such devastating stories really not exist if there were no drones, as if Apache helicopters, high altitude surveillance, and bombs that drop without reply were not in use before? We have seen throughout history such massacres go by without repercussions for imperial powers – drones are no different.
As we attempt to set our own agendas we must urgently find methods of opposition that do not mirror the system with masculine-driven militaristic parallels of war and violence. There are existing and merging vocabularies to discover and utilise that oppose all war and hit home about the danger of corporate-government alliances. Discussion on drones often accommodates a world where violence-war is normal and inevitable; as such policy adjustment is the outcome. The concentration on drones may enable us to open up fresh vocabulary that does not simply request reform – for instance drones could be used to metaphorically highlight homonationalism, sexism and pinkwashing while simultaneously hitting home about this most pressing issue. Militaries are expanding their own concepts in light of drones with medals and ideas of ‘bravery’. Thereby we might appropriate the symbol of a drone for the future; indeed in some instances we can steal directly from drone propaganda to highlight the future of corporate-government wars with “imagination, passion, persistence”.
I have attempted to bypass existing dichotomies of pro/anti-drones as highlighted by Chris Cole in favour of remembering Audre Lorde’s point that ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’. I am convinced that it is too late to ‘ground the drones’ but I am hopeful that debate and action can be refocused from tools to relationships between corporate and government. Unbelievably despite mass killings with impunity and the gross amounts of revenue involved the Stop the War Coalition had no dedicated space to discuss the development and resistance to private-corporate collaboration at it’s conference to mark the ten year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Seasoned politicians love drones, their lies confirm this while hiding the reasons. As UN experts recognise “providing security to its people is a fundamental responsibility of the State and outsourcing security to private military and security companies creates risks for human rights, hence the need to regulate their activities.” Drones do not generate risks for human rights abuses but corporate-government collaboration does.