The US’s dependency on drone warfare reveals a laziness in properly imagining geography. At the same time, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) project was a rash decision. It was launched not to save the lives of soldiers, but in response to the geopolitical defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq. This geographical illiteracy and careless thinking explain drone warfare’s extremely hig hcivilian casualty rates as compared to conventional warfare. For example, and since the beginning of UAV warfare, there have been over 5,000 casualties in Pakistan, 200 children. In Yemen and Somalia, there have been over 1,000 deaths and almost 50 children killed. Those killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places far surpass those killed in the regions just mentioned.(1)
Several years before the preemptive onslaughts against Afghanistan and Iraq, geographic imaginations and understandings were pivotally downgraded. Military power, specifically through technological determinism, was upgraded. This created a situation where the Pentagon and politicians were profoundly ignorant about the science of getting significant quantities of men and material from one continent to another. Conditions existed too in which leaders were uninformed about the interconnectedness of certain regions, let alone the art of understanding layers of their politics, economics, religions, cultures, ideologies, and histories. Magnifying drone warfare as means of trying to conquer geography and culture has caused the US and many innocent civilians to become victims of geography.(2)
Before sending troops and equipment, even before declaring a preemptive war, the US should have taken time to analyze the many individuals and groups that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda had contacted in Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. It should have attempted to imagine and realize the thousands of other human-terrain networks, subnational organizations, and national entities that were active in dozens of other surrounding countries – many of which were also used to resisting imperial misadventures, something quite common for these regions. It ought to have known how al-Qaeda’s virtual space (internet) was able to communicate with jihadists in many places at once. The US should have anticipated world opinion and perception.
After the armed occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the US found itself geographically and politically trapped in land-locked regions. Transporting troops and supplies was made even more difficult due topost-colonial and post-Cold War acts of sabotage and retaliation. The US failed to imagine and prepare for jihadists who traveled from Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other areas, to aid the insurgents in their fight. These other “indirect” wars, engagements of spillage, were not projected. Due to the impossibilities of transporting more troops and military equipment out of an already logistical and hostile nightmare, drone warfare was an attempt to replace conventional war. It was also effective in the Propaganda of downplaying two debacles.
Drone warfare is another sad attempt, a temporary solution, in trying to overcome the harsh realities of geography and culture – which consist of overlapping layers of people and their identities, values, faiths, traditions, perceptions, and internal meanings which many are willing to defend and die for. It is hard to fathom that geography (in this sense of the term) will ever be defeated. Human terrains are always experiencing cultural and innovative diffusions, constantly evolving and emerging and reemerging. UAV warfare will probably never transcend human geographies. Even their tracking abilities, assassination boards, targeted killings, and kill ratios will always be subject to human-environmental perceptions. Aerial (and the new underwater) drones will continue to kill one suspected terrorist per 53 civilians.(3)
Amnesty International (AI) is challenging drone warfare, claiming the U. administration’s policy on intentional use of lethal force permits violations of the right to life. They propose that the US follow international laws and respect human rights laws by recognizing zones of peace versus zones of war, and by honoring the boundaries and airspace of other nations and cities. The group maintains also that an independent and impartial investigation should always follow an extrajudicial execution, and if a death is found to be unlawful, the family or relatives ought to be allowed a redress of grievance and receive compensation. While stressing that true “justice” is a fair and public trial, AI is requesting that the U.S. uphold the rights of all people, not only US citizens.(4)
Afghanistan has not only become the graveyard of empires, but it is now the graveyard of technological determinism, including drone warfare. More so, environmental determinism is revealing that UAV warfare multiplies the location of a targeted killing by causing various acts of blowback. Has it even multiplied the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? And in imagining human geography, if drone warfare is not stopped, and if the belief in technological determinism continues, will a government someday impose on its citizens tiny explosive drone-like implants for the purpose of absolute behavioral control?
(2) Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge Of Geography. New York, New York: Random House Publishers, 2012., p. 34.