Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Myth of Unmanned Warfare - My Talk at SCSU on November 14th

I will be giving at a talk at Southern Connecticut State University on November 14th, based on my new book

If you're in the New Haven area, come check it out. If you're not, here's an abstract of what I'll be talking about:

President Obama's reliance on "unmanned warfare" in his War on Terror has been seen as a move to the opposite extreme of warfare from President Bush's use of torture in his War on Terror. However, the particular aim of this talk will be to show that—if we focus not on the questions of just cause, discrimination, and proportionality that are currently at the heart of such debates but instead focus on the question of what it means to be a drone pilot or cyberwarrior—torturers are not as removed from drone pilots and cyberwarriors as they may at first appear to be. Though drones are still a relatively new element of combat and cyberwarfare is much more in the planning than implementing stage, there is already evidence from drone pilots that although these tactics remove the combatant from the battlefront, the suffering remains the same. What this reveals therefore is that our ideas about what counts as “risk” for combatants needs to be rethought, particularly as some of the evidence that has started to appear indicates that drone pilots may even experience more suffering than do their traditional counterparts.

While the traditional view of responsibility as culpability leads directly to the “dream” of unmanned warfare, what my view of responsibility as capability reveals instead is that we must remove the dangerously mistaken idea that warfare in any form can be “unmanned.” Even if we consider the ultimate realization of this dream—autonomous unmanned warfare—it must be recognized that there will still be humans involved in the designing and programming of these autonomous robots, humans who will still have to face the consequences of what their designs and programs do. Whereas traditional combatants have their “band of brothers” to look to for support and have the insulating safety that distant wars can provide from feeling judged by noncombatants, these new non- traditional combatants have neither such support nor such distance. Instead, drone pilots, cyberwarriors, and robot engineers are judged by both combatants and noncombatants— by the traditional combatants who do not respect those who do not fight beside them, and by the noncombatants who they see regularly because their battlefront is the homefront. There is no such thing therefore as a “safe distance” from combat for combatants because the “distance” that is vital to both the experiences of combat and the suffering of combatants is not the physical distance from the enemy with which culpability operates. Rather what can now be seen is that this distance is existential, for this distance cannot be measured but only felt, and it is for this reason that our approaches to the suffering of combatants have not yet been able to properly help in closing this ever-widening gap between combatants and noncombatants.

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