The MoD has launched a carefully controlled PR exercise to defend its use of armed drones. A selected number of journalist were invited to RAF Waddington to view the new Reaper control centre that has been operating UK drones in Afghanistan since last April. As well as being able to view RAF pilots controlling Reapers, the MoD also put on display the UK’s other five unarmed drones.
As usual whether to call these aircraft ‘drones’ or ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ or ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ seems to have taken up an extraordinary amount of time. The far more serious questions surrounding remote warfare were given was less attention, with Oliver Wright of The Independent for example, being told:
“If you want to talk about foreign nations, you can talk to the Foreign Office. If you want to talk about legal interpretations, you can talk some legal beagles. We will not touching any of those areas. If you start touching any of those areas I will cut you off. ”
Writing in Defence of Drones in today’s Guardian, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says that he wants to correct the “wild misrepresentations” about drones put about by drone activists including the “uninformed mantra we so often hear” that “Drones kill indiscriminately.” To my knowledge none of the very serious criticisms of the use of armed drones have suggested that drones are an indiscriminate weapon and this accusation – which he naturally goes on to knock down – is itself a ‘wild misrepresentation’ of the critique of armed drones.
Hammond then goes on another, as he puts it, “favourite of the drone activists… the suggestion that the government’s use of unmanned and remotely piloted aircraft is shrouded in secrecy.” Incredibly Hammond goes on to say “The mystique is not of our making, but of those who seek to misrepresent the value of an exceptionally useful tool that protects and defends UK forces and civilian populations.” In other words, those campaigning for more transparency about the use of drones and their day-to-day use are to be blamed for the secrecy. Truly Orwellian.
Of course if the MoD and Hammond were in the slightest bit interested in “de-mystifying” Britain’s use of armed drones they would answer the serious questions that we and others have been asking for some time (see for example our post from earlier this year: ‘After five years of British drone strikes, five basic facts we are simply not allowed to know’) .
We very much hope that the Defence Select Committee will call Mr Hammond and others involved in Britain’s drone wars to share information and answer questions about their growing use in a serious and grown up manner as part of its on going inquiry Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use. A number of organisations have made serious and thoughtful submissions about the many legal and ethical issues surrounding the growing use of armed drones which this PR exercise does nothing to address.