We’ve come to the end of our project, and we thought it would be a good idea to wrap it up by dislodging the four technological misconceptions as they would apply to the Predator MQ-1 UAS:
Is it grand? The Predator MQ-1 is considered to be a sophisticated technology and, theoretically, is a revolutionary concept. However, by studying the technological system itself, we have come to realize that while it has revolutionized the conduct of war, the way the system works is not very different from operating a fighter jet. The reference to UAVs as “drones” does give the misconception of a grand technology. Yet, unlike drones, UAVs are no more autonomous than regular fighter jets. The only element of the UAVs that could arguably be revolutionary is the satellite communications system through which the ground control station sends its commands to the aircraft.
Is it linear? Yes and No. The modern Predator MQ-1 came about through a series of developments from across the world, starting in the U.S. during the Cold War, then Russia and Israel before returning to the U.S. The U.S. Air Force’s initiation of the UAV program in 1960 was to an extent socially determined; the technology was developed in response to fear of losing Air Force pilots over hostile territory. Today, however, there is an argument for technological determinism as there has been some growing fear that the technology itself could begin to affect not only the means of warfare, but also the ends.
Is it efficient? Proponents of the Predator MQ-1 have argued that its accurate surveillance and target precision make it a more “efficient” technology that minimizes civilian casualties. Because information on UAV warfare is classified and there have been no official reports about the number of civilian deaths from UAV strikes, efficiency is a difficult question to answer. Throughout our research, we have come across several news stories that would point to the Predator’s inefficiency, particularly in one case in Yemen, where forty people were killed when only one individual was a target. In regards to surveillance, it could be argued that the technology is efficient, in the sense that it does not risk the lives of USAF pilots, and provides accurate, high-resolution footage for intelligence analysis.
Is it political? Yes. While we do acknowledge that it is debatable to refer to any technology as inherently political, our point of view is that the Predator MQ-1 is a highly political technology. One key reason is that, throughout our research, we found that it was practically impossible to discuss the technology without discussing its political and ethical consequences. Everything from its development to its use today points to the Predator MQ-1’s highly political nature.
This concludes our project. Thank you for following us!
We’ve completed our video, and we would like to take the opportunity to recognize our interviewees again! Thank you very much to Dr. Mark Lagon for discussing the ethical implications of UAVs. and many thanks as well to Dr. Anthony Arend for speaking with on on the legal issues surrounding “drone warfare”. Our completed video can be viewed on our project elements page.
In his interview, Dr. Arend explained that while the existing legal framework for the use of force was not problematic in regards to the use of UAVs, there is still nevertheless a concern that the technology could eventually violate the laws of war. The legal framework that he focused on was the use of force in combat situation and following the existing UN Charter and Geneva Conventions, the use of UASs in conflict is legal because it is a part of an ongoing conflict and in response to terrorist attacks against the U.S. However, because UAVs are easy to use and pose no risk to the lives of U.S. Air Force pilots, they may potentially be used in situations in the future that could violate the law.
Ambassador Lagon, in discussing U.S. foreign policy, mainly focused on the perception and image of UAS warfare and how it reflects on the United States from an international point of view. While he asserted that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are in no way automated, he pointed out that they still give a perception of a dehumanized killer that reflects poorly on the U.S. and, therefore, has the capacity to undermine the country’s soft power or role in democracy promotion. According to him, it is in this way that the use of UASs could in fact lead to a rise in violence against the United States.
In the interest of getting some more comprehensive research on the legal framework of drone warfare, we have reached out to a new expert. Professor Anthony Arend is the director of Georgetown’s Master of Science in Foreign Service Walsh School and has done extensive work on the legal issues surrounding the use of combat drones. We decided to drop by his office today to have a quick chat about the project and ask him if he would like to be involved. Professor Arend was very supportive and has agreed to an interview. Following that, we had a brief, informal discussion with him about the legal implications of drone use in combat and he briefly explained UAV’s in the context preemptive conflict. In our upcoming interview, we plan to ask him more about this and additionally about the leaked Justice Department memos on drone policy and the specificity of their legal framework.
Luckily enough, we also managed to have a quick meet-and-greet with Professor Mark Lagon, also from the MSFS program who we will be interviewing later this week to discuss the political and ethical dimensions of drone warfare. We’re excited to see what both have to say on the topic and will continue to update the blog with more information as we proceed with the interviews!