Hemming, Judy & Michael McKinley: Psychopathology of drones

Hemming, Judy & Michael McKinley

‘Expanding space, compressing time and the psychopathology of drones: paper presented to the 55th Annual Convention Panel TD 49 The International Studies Association, 27 March 2014, Toronto, Canada’

The paper 268 Hemming McKinley Toronto ISAPaper copy argues that the use of military drones allows nations ‘to act with lethal force at minimal cost (“bloodless” or “risk-free” war”)’ and thus ‘have the potential to create a pathological politics of temptation’. Put simply, relying more on military drones and less on expeditionary forces lowers the threshold of the military involvements that can be contemplated by nation-states. It seems to be politically easier and financially cheaper to go to war.

While the paper is primarily about the history of drones in the United States, it is relevant to Australia also. For example, compare it with the factors supporting Australian involvement in wars. Could participation in US drone warfare become a new way of paying the premium on Australia’s American alliance insurance policy? Is the ‘Anzac tradition of arms’ compatible with this new style of warfare? Does making war (allegedly) cheaper and less bloody (for ‘our side’, at least) add to the Anzac factor and our romanticisation of war to make future involvements more likely? (Australia’s alleged role in assisting US drone strikes is already under investigation.)

The paper notes the importance of drones in anti-terrorism and ‘special operations’, the concern about civilian casualties, the seamlessness of drone technology – from tiny machines, essentially toys, through a range of civilian emergency service and humanitarian uses, to surveillance drones, to strike drones – and the proliferation of drones worldwide – 80 countries with drones (and counting), including 10-15 countries venturing into weaponised drones. (Lockheed Martin provides a recent example of manufacturers promoting the civilian uses of drones while simultaneously marketing military versions. Alternatively, Google ‘pizza delivery by drone’.)

The Australian government has announced an intention to purchase Triton drones for maritime surveillance. Australia is Northrop Grumman’s first overseas customer for the Triton, which is still under development. Further details will be revealed in the Defence White Paper due for release early 2015.

Surveillance drones can be retrofitted with missiles to become strike drones. The Williams Foundation is a centre of Australian support for the military use of drones and it released a report in February. The Executive Summary included this paragraph:

In addition to the ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] role, the introduction of UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems, i.e. drones] strike capability by Australia appears to be inevitable. A potentially cost-effective way of acquiring armed UAS would be to investigate expanding the scope of Project Air 7000 [replacement of Orion manned surveillance planes] to include the acquisition of a strike capability for the chosen ISR platform[Emphasis added]

The Board of the Foundation acknowledged ‘the generous and impartial support of the project’s sponsors: Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Australia, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics Aeronautical, Insitu Pacific [subsidiary of Boeing] and Cobham’. All of these firms except Cobham are drone manufacturers.

The Hemming-McKinley paper has extensive notes. As well, 272 Drone Bibliography has resources up-to-date to around May 2013 (with a few later than that). A presentation to the ANU United Nations Society in May 2013 canvasses arguments for and against the military use of drones. 270 Droning on ANU UN society

David Stephens


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