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19 Jul, 2010 03:28

Drones make killing cheaper, civilian deaths less personal

Researchers say the drone industry is booming internationally and raising fears it will lead to increased warfare. Activists claim the cheap and easy access to the weapons could also potentially harm innocent civilians.

They come out of the blue… A drone is ten times cheaper than a fighter jet, it requires no pilot so there are no troop deaths to explain. It is the perfect weapon for covert CIA operations in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

However, studies by independent international experts suggest that for every militant killed, as many as 15 civilians also die.

There is no way of getting exact numbers, as the CIA keeps its drones program under wraps, but the United Nations and other international organizations question the legality of the extensive use of the weapon.

“It becomes different when you will come to an undeclared war with organization like Al Qaeda or the Taliban and you go after a person,” said Siemon Wezeman, research fellow for Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “But who has proof that the person you are actually targeting are the terrorists? They are not in uniform.”

Still, humanitarian concerns are doing little to dampen surging international demand for drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The military appetite is such that the market is expected to grow to a staggering 55 billion dollars within ten years. The trend worries specialists.

“With the advance of technologies, they depersonalize warfare and therefore you have people willing to use them and you have people who do not understand the consequences,” said Lawrence J. Korb, senior advisor for Center for Defense Information. “People who are flying the drones are not on the battlefield. They are not in the plane, they are thousands of miles away and when they cause destruction they do not feel it.”

Specialists say that for the drone operator, the whole operation recalls a video game. The question many ask is, if it is so easy and convenient, will it make the international powers tempted to wage more wars in the future?

“If war is cheap, then why not why use it a bit more, especially against smaller countries, organizations that in other cases you would try to sit around the table with and talk it over?” said Wezeman.

Siemon Wezeman has produced a research report on drones for the European parliament. Among his concerns are the consequences of terrorists getting hold of such weapons – a scenario some might liken to real-life and deadly robot wars.

Demonstrators outside CIA headquarters at the start of the year protested against indiscriminate killings by unmanned weaponry. They say that rather than winning wars, drones merely make more enemies by killing mostly innocent people, thus fuelling, rather than quelling, insurgencies.