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Unmanned Drones: a war on civilians?

February 22, 2010

Part of my internship requires me to research various periodicals that pertain to nuclear weapons and missile defense. One such periodical is Defense Review, which claims to be a source of, “News and information on the latest military defense, law enforcement, and tactical technologies from around the world.” For anyone committed to non-violence, this is a frightening periodical. It seemed more like a Christmas catalog for weapons manufacturers and military leaders than a magazine.

When flipping through the pages, I came across an advertisement that particularly shocked me. It was an advertisement for Northrop Grumman’s unmanned systems, or drones, and it said, “Reduce the danger warfighters face. Increase the danger they pose.” My first thought was, what about the danger that civilians face?

Daniel Byman from Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies claims that for every militant killed by an unmanned drone, 10 civilians are killed. Approximately 600 civilians have already been killed by US drones in Pakistan alone. Byman added, “Beyond the humanitarian tragedy incurred, civilian deaths create dangerous political problems… US strikes that take a civilian toll are a further blow to its legitimacy — and to U.S. efforts to build goodwill there.” Evidence of this is the retaliatory bombings to the drone attacks, which continue to kill civilians, some of them US citizens, in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

To be honest, Northrop Grumman’s slogan is pretty accurate. Their unmanned drones will continue to keep their operators and other warfighters safe. The operators usually pilot the drones from a bunker in Nevada or other remote locations, far from the battlefield. The unmanned drones will also continue to increase the danger warfighters pose. However, civilians are statistically the ones who face that danger more than enemy combatants.

Northrop Grumman’s slogan, and the concept of unmanned weapons, is sure to sell many drones. The prospect of reducing American casualties, while continuing the “war on terror,” would be tempting for politicians and military officials. However, with so many weapons systems in America’s arsenal that tend to kill civilians more than enemy combatants, how can we afford to increase the chances that we will continue this awful trend?

I must remind myself that weapons manufacturers and those who seek to profit from war have had much more experience at creating, marketing, and selling these weapons than I have had at trying to prevent their creation and usage. And, they have a much bigger budget than those of us committed to nonviolence do for stopping the spread of these weapons.

So, what does this mean for those of us who are committed to non-violence and prevention of war? In my opinion, it means that we must work even harder to expose the truths about these weapons and educate people about the real danger these weapons pose. There will never be a public outcry for the banning of such weapons until people become aware of the danger that they pose to civilians.

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