Drone Theory – Chamayou

For our first book review, we have chosen Drone Theory by Grégoire Chamayou.

It has become quite influential in the study of drones, and really set the tone for a lot of the early research on drones. At the recent conference Drones and Lone Wolves, every participant referred to this book, so we are glad to finally review it. Our thoughts are below:

Grégoire Chamayou’s Drone Theory is an interesting book, and a great ‘first read’ for the new TTAC21 research group. While it is published for the general public, and so suffers from a lack of academic rigour in some areas, it does draw attention to a number of issues pertinent to the drone warfare discussion. One of the most significant for me is the concept of ‘pattern of life’ and the way in which computer algorithms are being used to assess the ‘threat’ or ‘potential threat’ of individuals being monitored by these armed drones. The implications here for not only warfare but criminality and the definition of the criminal are quite staggering, the logical consequences of such pre-emptive action reading increasingly like a work of dystopian science fiction.

From my own research, another discussion that I found quite interesting in Drone Theory is the part where Chamayou raises the question of humanity, and how soldiers see themselves in the soldier vs assassin debate. For Chamayou, there is something fundamentally quite human in the decision not to shoot the exposed enemy who might be smoking or taking a break, when they are not directly taking part in the conflict. Though logic and orders may suggest you should shoot said exposed soldier, there is a moment there in which the soldier risks becoming an assassin: ‘It is a matter not of duty by of becoming. The crucial, decisive question is not “What should I do?” but “What will I become?”’ (199).

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

In my comment on Drone Theory, I wanted to pull something specific out, Chamayou mentions a difference between ‘fighting’ and ‘killing’ (p.199). He exemplifies this be referring to the fact that soldiers are legally allowed to kill their enemy simply because they are the enemy (in an International Armed Conflict), whether they are ‘naked, dishevelled, disarmed, smoking a cigarette, or even asleep.’ Although this doesn’t take into account those who could be hors de combat (see Art.41 of Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions), it does raise an interesting point regarding autonomous weapon systems.

When we think of killing in warfare, we think about the ‘kill or be killed’ of high-intensity combat in which people close and kill the enemy. But, the issue Chamayou raises forces us to think about killing when the enemy is not a direct threat. A human solider may choose to take an enemy in such a position as a prisoner. A drone pilot may choose to wait until a target actually poses a threat to civilians or friendly forces. However, an autonomous weapon system programmed to fire at anything it calculates is an enemy would not stop, and consider the ethical implications of firing at a target that is sleeping. Perhaps, an autonomous weapon system really, is not a fighting robot, but a killing machine.

Yet, I seem to remember a documentary on the Falklands War where Maj. Chris Keeble who took command on 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment at the battle of Goose Green following the death of Lt-Col. H Jones, describe the battle as ‘pure killing’ – raising the issue of the military as ‘cold-blooded killers’. However, Keeble managed to negotiate a peaceful Argentine surrender during a lul in the battle. No autonomous weapon system could do this, it would remain a killing machine.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

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Information Warfare A Philosophical Perspective – Taddeo

Our final article from Month 1 is Information Warfare A Philosophical Perspective by Mariarosaria Taddeo in Philosophy & Technology, 2012, Vol.25(1), pp.105-120.

The article is available for free here.

Here is our analysis:

Several articles have focussed on the blurred distinction between war and peace in relation to small-scale physical military operations, such as special forces raids, or drone strikes. Yet, this article raises the same question in relation to ‘Information Warfare’, mostly considering cyber conflict. A cyberwar in attack could be strictly limited to military targets, ‘due to the blurring between civil society and military organisations’ (p.117). Nor could it in defence, as military cyber units are being used at the forefront of defending civilian infrastructure from cyber-attacks, whether potentially destructive enough to begin an armed conflict, or merely cyber-disruption.

As most cyber-attacks do not rise to the level of armed conflict, I don’t think we can say yet that cyber-attacks blur the line between war and peace quite like drone strikes. But I think because of those involved, such as US Cyber Command, Chinas PLA Unit 61398, UK Cyber Reserve, and signals intelligence agencies, this does blur the line relating to who is involved. Is it a military domain, or is it the domain of civilian intelligence and police for cyber security. I don’t think there are any easy answers, and it might be that there is no resolution as the capabilities will be required by states in the future, and the distinction about who is doing cyberwarfare or other cyber-related things might not bother to the governments who ask them to do it.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

There seems to be a real definitional issue here surrounding Information Warfare and how we define it. The author here ties robotic weapons and cyber attacks alongside ‘communication management’ (we can assume here she means propaganda), but to take this line of reasoning surely then all warfare becomes ‘information warfare’? Where does one draw the line with technology and the separation between what the author defines as ‘information’ (software, autonomy and remote control) and other forms of weapon that all to some extent or another require an interface, and more often than not, a software intermediary?

For me, this piece doesn’t really tell us anything particularly new, and as a philosophy student, doesn’t really address any of the key philosophical issues at play here, aside from suggestions at the blurring of the border between combatant and civilian – a blurring that has been in existence now at least since WW2, if not before.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

Information is the new 5th dimension – an addition to the conventional foursome  of land, sea, air and space .

What links ICT deployment is disruptive intent. The key idea within the paper is that IW is transversal  in regards to (1) environment, (2) agents involved and (3) modes of combat; and the transversality of IW is what produces the policy-related and  ethical problems.  For instance there is a slippery conceptual, coding and material-digital slide between a DdoS attack that could stop water supplies for an hour , to a cyber-attack that could  shut down a power station for a day, to a cyber attack that could destroy or explode an enemy missile in situ.   Moreover, the agents involved in such an attack can be ontologically varied: they could be soldiers who slot in thumb drives to enemy computers, or digital-beings such as automated, digital –sphere roaming viruses which seek vulnerabilities, or code-savvy civilian operators who work remotely from offices in civilian areas, or even from their homes.  Where is the command centre, who is the enemy? Pre-emption of such attacks may require extensive surveillance of populations to identify hostile actors – a reduction in human right to privacy that in itself brings ethical problems.

The paper is heavy with acronyms and sometimes feels as if it is having to cram its ideas into a very limited space. The paper’s  concentration on the nature of Information warfare is useful; its main concept – that of IW’s transversal nature – seems its most pungent point.

Peter Kalu, Lancaster University


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