All of the journalistic articles on drone pilots start the same way. They paint a picture of the environment in Nevada- the heat, the air conditioning, the flickering screens, the watching, waiting, and then the sudden orders to release the hellfire missiles.
Winner of our ‘Trust, Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation‘ blog competition.
Violent conflicts around the world have repeatedly demonstrated that polarised differences in perceptions of the legitimacy of violence perpetrated by one’s own society, as opposed to that of an “other”, can prove catastrophic.
“By 2024 it will be the largest driver of economic growth, and it will help smooth the transition from a country heavily dependent on international aid to a country that can stand on its own feet” (Wahidullah Shahrani, Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines quoted in Time, 2011).
“Numerous countries and regions face or will face insurgencies; and undoubtedly, it will be in our interest to help at least some of those countries counter those insurgencies, even if we do so in ways that do not involve large military footprints.”- General David H Petraeus (Rtd)
In conflict situations it is important, even essential, to know who it is you are fighting against. First to consider is the issue of the identity of the individual targeted by the drone strike, their status as civilian or combatant, and how that distinction is understood. Then there is the identity of the individual conducting the strike, whether they are military, CIA, or Private Military Contractor (PMC) and what this means legally and ethically. Finally, there is the identity of the drone itself, the way it creates a relationship between the individual conducting the strike and the target. The issue of identity is important because how we construct our understanding of the enemy, of the other, impacts on how we understand their death and the foreign policy decisions which follow.
For those of us interested in the science and emotions of human cooperation, a recent study on the Prisoners’ Dilemma (hereafter PD) by Menusch Khadjavi and Andreas Lange of the Department of Economics at the University of Hamburg makes very interesting reading. Developed by game theorists in the immediate post-war period, and a favorite model of the strategists at the Rand Corporation as they gamed the Cold War strategic nuclear stand-off, the classic payoff structure of the game postulates that the best strategy for a rational player in a single-shot game is always to defect (the classic PD is explained here).