Fully Mechanized Warfare

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - German government advisors in Berlin are urging utter restraint in acquiring drones for the German Bundeswehr and pleading that fully automatic weapons platforms be internationally outlawed. The use of so-called combat drones in fighting insurgency is already fraught with dramatic repercussions, according to a recent paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Restraints imposed by the laws of war are being dismantled. Because wars using drones can be waged without sacrificing one's own soldiers, there is a worldwide threat of an inflation of military interventions. However, one must especially take into account the continued technological development of drones. With the increased complexity of their capabilities, the human factor will no longer be in command, but merely serve, at best, to confirm or reject suggestions produced by the machine. Under such circumstances, "factual autonomy of human decision making" will no longer be ensured in combat, warns SWP. The think tank envisages, in light of the continuing barbarization of the use of military force, a new type of arms control for drones. However, the German government is pursuing the path leading in the opposite direction, contemplating acquiring combat drones for the Bundeswehr.

Rapid Development

The recent study on drones published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) begins with a recapitulation of the rapid development of the military application of so-called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). According to the study, UAVs have been in use since the early 1990s - "primarily for the surveillance of combat zones and intelligence gathering on targeted objects or persons," especially in armed conflicts "with a great amount of irregular combatants functioning in small dynamic units." In the late 1990s, drones began to be armed platforms and were then developed into instruments of "surgical warfare." It was Israel, which in 2000, began to use drones to attack the leaderships of Palestinian organizations, that had initiated this development. In the summer of 2001, the US government considered this "illegitimate." However, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Washington, began authorizing its own intelligence services to use drones "as an appropriate means for fighting the war on terror."[1] Today, several US agencies are carrying out UAV attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in Yemen and Somalia.

Main Means of Combat

It is reported that military strategists view drone attacks as representing the United States' "main means of combat" in the so-called war on terror. According to the reports, in 2011, there were 64 UAV attacks in Pakistan alone. Altogether, there were 117 in the course of 2010. More than 300 drone attacks have been carried out in Pakistan and Afghanistan, since US President Barack Obama took office, killing, according to conservative estimates, more than 2,500 people.[2] Non-government organizations consistently point to the high number of civilian casualties.[3] The USA has even begun carrying out so-called signature strikes, aimed at anonymous individuals - persons, who "as individuals have not been more closely identified."[4] Within the framework of "signature strikes," the victims had been kept under surveillance and killed by drones, if they fitted into "identifiable terrorist behavioral patterns" - assassination on suspicion.

"Questionable Under Rule of Law"

Diplomatically SWP's analysis says "signature strikes" are "very controversial, from the standpoint of the legality of the attacks."[5] Berlin's government advisors view drone attacks, also otherwise, very critically. Two years ago, the SWP considered the "creation of terrorist lists" - which often served as the basis for UAV attacks - as "highly questionable (...) under rule of law." Individuals were being cleared for execution, without the slightest judicial procedure. Judicial proceedings were often not even contemplated, to avoid exposure of intelligence service information. Back then, the Berlin-based think tank had pointed to the "Joint Prioritized Effects List" (JPEL), being compiled by NATO troops operating in Afghanistan. This list carried a "k" beside the names of persons to be killed - if possible, with drones. Already back then, according to information from the German government, there were at least 15 persons on this list, whose names had been added at German suggestion. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6])

"Legal Twilight Zone"

SWP also points out "that with drones, military force can be more effectively and more cost-efficiently used." The question then would be "if this would not lower the threshold of the use of arms." After all, the UAV remote control would enable the involvement also of "civilians, such as intelligence personnel or business representatives in the assassination" of other human beings, "even though they are not regular members of the armed forces and, under international law, have no combatant status." This persistent dismantling of the restraints bridling the use of violence imposed by the law of war, contextualizes future wars even more in a legal twilight zone," writes the SWP.[7]

The End of Autonomy

SWP is also closely examining, for the first time, the perspectives for future wars, being opened by the technological development of drones. According to the analysis,[8] "unmanned aerial systems (...) can become increasingly autonomous in their maneuvering behavior." Thanks to the vehicle's "miniaturization," increasing computing capacity and the most advanced algorithms, the UAV can already today "choose for itself the ideal orbit for observing a particular object." These growing capabilities of drones necessitate the increasing transfer of navigational control to the UAVs themselves. "By the time the UAV assumes tasks currently carried out by manned combat aircraft (...), aeronautical remote control will no longer be possible," writes the SWP. Confronted with extraordinary far-reaching problems, human operators will ultimately only have the choice between "confirmation or refusal of a solution proposed by a machine." No "real decision-making autonomy will be left for the human being" involved.

The Human Abdication

"The UAVs' technological development," writes the SWP, is proceeding "inevitably toward the automation" of warfare. "The human being - as the decision maker with ethics and morality - is therefore abdicating."[9] The German government must "already confront the question of how far it wants to proceed down this path." "In the spirit of preventive arms control, it could be conceivable that the development, acquisition and deployment of fully automatic weapons platforms is outlawed," proposes the think tank and advises that "the capabilities' limitations, thereby imposed, should consciously be accepted, in consideration of the legal and ethical consequences of a future use of weaponry by robotic platforms." It is not to be expected that the German government will follow the advice of its advisors in this question. Just recently, German Defense Minister, Thomas de Maizière confirmed that he is preparing to acquire combat drones for the Bundeswehr.[10]

[1] Marcel Dickow, Hilmar Linnenkamp: Kampfdrohnen - Killing Drones. Ein Plädoyer gegen die fliegenden Automaten, SWP-Aktuell 75, Dezember 2012
[2] Lothar Rühl: Unkonventionelle Kriegsführung; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.12.2012
[3] see also Zum Scheitern verurteilt
[4], [5] Marcel Dickow, Hilmar Linnenkamp: Kampfdrohnen - Killing Drones. Ein Plädoyer gegen die fliegenden Automaten, SWP-Aktuell 75, Dezember 2012
[6] see also An den Grenzen des Rechtsstaats
[7], [8], [9] Marcel Dickow, Hilmar Linnenkamp: Kampfdrohnen - Killing Drones. Ein Plädoyer gegen die fliegenden Automaten, SWP-Aktuell 75, Dezember 2012
[10] De Maizière: Entscheidung über Kauf von Kampf-Drohnen im Frühjahr; www.focus.de 14.10.2012