Dear Negotiators for a New German Coalition Government:
During this time when the coalition for a new German government is considering whether to allow weapons to be installed on Bundeswehr drones, I would like to offer, on behalf of myself and my colleagues at BanKillerDrones.org, observations that argue for continuing the policy of abstaining from arming drones.
Please consider that, while one may wish to apply Rules of Engagement, or other rules, to the operation of armed drones in order to protect civilians and non-combatants, the very nature of the weapon itself can and does make such rules meaningless.
First, there are technical imperfections in drone technology such as lack of clarity of images picked up by drone cameras, flaws in identification that may rely on facial recognition technology, flaws in electronic and other intelligence information provided to drone operators and their back-up teams that have led not only to killings of civilians but of “friendly” forces as well.
Second, and perhaps more important, the armed drone is a weapon that encourages killing because, unlike any other weapon, it enables its operator to follow the movement of people on the ground over extended periods of time, with the operator knowing that she or he has the power to kill at any moment, without retribution.As military expert William Arkin writes in his book, Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare: “Drones and their puppeteer, the Data Machine, may have developed from some sense of need and good, but no matter what, this Machine is going to kill, and it is going to make godlike decisions.”
One might like to imagine that this “godlike” power could be used “responsibly”.
However, as we have seen in the U.S. drone slaughter of 10 Afghan civilians on August 29, 2021, in spite of the use of the most advanced drone surveillance and intelligence technology, drone attacks are also based on assumptions, subjective impressions, racism and a kind of combat hysteria to attack, to defend, or to get revenge. These are all very human failings that any of us might experience, but weaponized drones permit these failings to lead to decisions to kill that are in no way restrained by the fear of direct or indirect personal consequences.
Use of armed drones to “protect the troops”, given the wide scope of observation provided by drone cameras, can lead to decisions to kill groups suspected of preparing to attack, as well as those attacking, and can widen the field of combat. In the hysteria of combat, gross mistakes have been made on countless occasions.
And, one must remember, the armed drone is a unique weapon that, because of its unique “eye in the sky – bringing death from the sky” character, engenders terror and hatred on the ground, regardless of the circumstances in which it is being used.
Finally, it is very clear that artificial intelligence is being progressively incorporated into the selection of targets and combat operations of armed drones. This will not only lead to increasing likelihood of war but also to the likelihood of dominance of those nations that have the money and human resources to advance this military technology, at this point, the United States and China.
At the same time, we are seeing relatively small, less technologically sophisticated armed drones being used by non-state military forces for assassination and disruptive attacks on oil and other vital facilities, acts that appear to be spreading.
Germany is the only nation in the world where the government and parliament have so far had the courage and foresight to officially question, and to refuse to bow to corporate and military pressures to embrace armed drone technology. In this, the German government and the Bundestag has not only represented its own people but also millions of others around the world who want an end to drone killing and terror and who want to see this weapon — that might otherwise become central to the spreading and horror of future wars — banned.
Thanks to you and to the people of Germany for helping to buy us all time to work for greater cooperation and less war, particularly at this remarkable moment in human history when climate emergency requires cooperation for the survival of all.
Nick Mottern – Co-coordinator, BanKillerDrones.org
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Northampton, MA 01060