• Valentina Koumoulou

Defining Remote Warfare



Over the last few centuries, a legal framework around warfare has been created by the United Nations in an effort to not only minimize the number of wars throughout the world but also ensure that the crimes against humanity which normally occur during inter-state war do not take place again. Per this framework, the primary justification for war is a state’s right to self-defence. More specifically, in order to legitimately evoke the right to self-defence, a state is required to demonstrate that it has suffered an intentional armed attack. However, this justification has been invoked by governments even in cases where there does not appear to be an immediate threat against the state. In response to the 2015 Paris shootings, for example, the French military launched an aerial bombing campaign against ISIL in Syria, citing self-defence, despite the apparent lack of sufficient evidence to suggest that the shootings were orchestrated by ISIL operatives[1].


This tactic is being used more and more since the 9/11 attacks[2] and it is thus imperative to understand how it works given that it seems to have gained a lot of ground in the military. After all, weapons of remote warfare offer the elimination of danger to their operators, making them more acceptable in the public eye. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, US drone operations have been acknowledged by the Obama Administration in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.[3] Indeed, by the time President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009, he had already authorized more drone attacks in Pakistan than President Bush authorized during his entire presidency[4]. However, such covert drone attacks, especially in areas that do not constitute recognized war zones, raise a great number of difficult questions for scholars, policy-makers, and analysts. Nevertheless, the lack of literature on the issue shows that it has yet to be truly thoroughly researched. The importance of further reflection lies particularly in the limits that governments should operate within when they believe the public is not watching. This type of warfare is most assuredly not a “clean” one, as the whole concept of a “no casualties”-method of warfare is not possible, by definition. This article will thus attempt to effectively present the meaning of remote warfare, starting with a background on when it became more popular, introducing the ways that this type of war is made as well as the tools that are used, and last but not least two case-studies that will help the reader realize that remote warfare has been used in modern history more than people may have considered.


Background of Remote Warfare


The War on Terror could be characterized as the “beginning” of the contemporary history of remote warfare. Although the notion of remote warfare might be said to date back to the invention of the bow and arrow[5], it had truly gained traction when US President George W. Bush embarked on the War on Terror after 9/11, after which point the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (i.e. drones) would soon become a vital element of the counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and later, ISIS.


In general, remote warfare differs from conventional warfare in its physical and moral remoteness from close-range violence on the ground. To be precise, Watts and Biegon define it as a “strategy of countering threats at a distance, without the deployment of large military forces” which also “involves a combination of drone strikes and air strikes from above, knitted together by the deployment of Special Forces, intelligence operatives, private contractors, and military training teams on the ground”[6].


According to Cullen, there are three categories of weapons that fall within the scope of “remote warfare”: “remotely piloted vehicles (drones), cyber weapons, and autonomous weapon systems”[7]. Drones have been characterised as “the epitome of numbed technological violence, perhaps even a caricature of it in their increasing replacement of human beings”[8]. What has been used as a compelling argument by those who support their use in the military is the precision as well as the abolition of human risk they seem to provide. However, apart from the supposed “cleanness” it offers, it also takes the human factor out of the act of violence on the ground, something that certainly shifts the public opinion pro drones.


Cyber weapons are another important tool of remote warfare in the War on Terror narrative. The International Committee of the Red Cross defined cyber warfare as “operations against a computer or a computer system through a data stream, when used as means and methods of warfare in the context of an armed conflict, as defined under International Humanitarian Law”[9]. Technology has been used in war ever since the dawn of time but the levels it has reached today make it possible for someone to control entire weaponry from the comfort of their houses.


Last but not least, autonomous weapon systems join the arena as improved models of weaponry. More specifically, they “will enable greater persistence, range, mass, daring, speed, and coordination among military forces – while at the same time reducing the risks to military personnel by removing them from the weapons that populate the battlefield”[10]. It is evident from all three types of tools that emphasis was given on limiting the human risk on the ground.


Case Studies


Remote warfare is inextricably linked with the War on Terror, thus making Afghanistan and Iraq its principal theatres. By calling to arms the entire international community in the fight against terrorism, the US pleas for the legitimacy of armed conflict when presenting remotely controlled weapons as a gift that will minimise casualties. As a result, “the use of drones for targeting suspected terrorists appears to be an attempt to externalize a state’s security measures to counter terrorism by taking out targets in another state’s territory before they have the chance to hit the drone state’s territory or nationals”[11].


Iraq


Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched on March 19, 2003, with a clear objective to cleanse Iraq from its weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s regime as well as replace the latter with a democratic government[12]. This operation was part of the retaliation strategy the US embarked upon after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was authorized when Iraq had been found in breach of U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 which “prohibits stockpiling and importing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)”[13]. During the majority of operations in Iraq, drones were used not only for gathering information on the sites where alleged terrorists were moving but also for targeting them and even helping assassinate some of them.


Afghanistan


In 2007, strikes were carried out from bases in Afghanistan that were remotely controlled by the CIA from the United States[14]. President Barack Obama then widened the scope of the target list, presenting faster and more powerful Reapers into service, borrowed from Air Force operations in Afghanistan[15]. It is evident that while the Bush Administration made the remote warfare concept a reality, the Obama Administration had embellished and perfected it. According to Mayer, “Baitullah Mehsud (an important member of Al Qaeda) was assassinated by a Predator strike in August 2009 – after 16 unsuccessful strikes over 14 months that killed several hundred others – but this seems to have been a rare success”[16]. By the end of 2010 there had been a further 180 strikes[17].


Conclusion


Remote warfare includes not only drones or autonomous weapon systems, but also cyber weapons. Its main reason for existence is the fact that it is more precise in regards to the targets and that it limits greatly collateral damage. In 2021, the public witnesses its means being used due to transparency reasons. What started out as a way to cut back on body bags came to be an easier way to conduct warfare. The distance between the people who control these weapons and the targets works as a very convincing argument in favour of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles because it takes the risk factor out of the equation. Nevertheless, it should not be overlooked that by making warfare “easier” and “cleaner”, it provides governments with arguments in favour of getting involved in proxy wars, more specifically on the War on Terror, without being criticized by the court of public opinion. Along with the precision it offers, this have made remote warfare today’s pinnacle of warfare.


References


[1] White, Nigel D, and Lydia Davies-Bright. 2017. “Chapter 7: Drone Strikes: A Remote Form Of Self-Defence?”. In Research Handbook On Remote Warfare. [2] Ibid. [3] “The Civilian Impact Of Drones”. 2012. PDF. Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in collaboration with the Center for Civilians in Conflict. [4] Gross, Oren. 2016. “The New Way Of War: Is There A Duty To Use Drones?”. Papers.Ssrn.Com. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2406991. [5] De Klerk, Anne. 2021. “The Remote History Of Remote Warfare”. MA, University of Utrecht. [6] Watts, Tom, and Rubrick Biegon. 2017. Defining Remote Warfare: Security Cooperation. Ebook. London: Remote Control. https://css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/resources/docs/ORG_RemoteControl_SecCoop.pdf. [7] Cullen, Anthony. 2017. “Chapter 4: The Characterization Of Remote Warfare Under International Humanitarian Law”. In Research Handbook On Remote Warfare. [8] Lifton, Robert Jay. 2013. “The Dimensions Of Contemporary War And Violence: How To Reclaim Humanity From A Continuing Revolution In The Technology Of Killing”. Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists 69 (4): 9-17. doi:10.1177/0096340213493257. [9] “International Humanitarian Law And The Challenges Of Contemporary Armed Conflicts”. 2021. International Committee Of The Red Cross. https://www.icrc.org/en/document/international-humanitarian-law-and-challenges-contemporary-armed-conflicts. [10] Schaub Jr., Gary. 2019. “Controlling The Autonomous Warrior”. Journal Of International Humanitarian Legal Studies 10 (1): 184-202. doi:10.1163/18781527-01001007. [11] White, Nigel D, and Lydia Davies-Bright. 2017. “Chapter 7: Drone Strikes: A Remote Form Of Self-Defence?”. In Research Handbook On Remote Warfare. [12] De Klerk, Anne. 2021. “The Remote History Of Remote Warfare”. MA, University of Utrecht. [13] “UN Security Council Resolution 1441”. 2002. Un.Org. https://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/documents/1441.pdf. [14] Gregory, Derek. 2011. “The Everywhere War”. The Geographical Journal 177 (3): 238-250. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00426.x. [15] Ibid. [16] Ibid. [17] Ibid.



Cullen, Anthony. 2017. “Chapter 4: The Characterization Of Remote Warfare Under International Humanitarian Law”. In Research Handbook On Remote Warfare.


De Klerk, Anne. 2021. “The Remote History Of Remote Warfare”. MA, University of Utrecht.


Gross, Oren. 2016. “The New Way Of War: Is There A Duty To Use Drones?”. Papers.Ssrn.Com. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2406991.


“International Humanitarian Law And The Challenges Of Contemporary Armed Conflicts”. 2021. International Committee Of The Red Cross. https://www.icrc.org/en/document/international-humanitarian-law-and-challenges-contemporary-armed-conflicts.


Lifton, Robert Jay. 2013. “The Dimensions Of Contemporary War And Violence: How To Reclaim Humanity From A Continuing Revolution In The Technology Of Killing”. Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists 69 (4): 9-17. doi:10.1177/0096340213493257.


Schaub Jr., Gary. 2019. “Controlling The Autonomous Warrior”. Journal Of International Humanitarian Legal Studies 10 (1): 184-202. doi:10.1163/18781527-01001007.


“The Civilian Impact Of Drones”. 2012. PDF. Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in collaboration with the Center for Civilians in Conflict.


UN Security Council Resolution 1441”. 2002. Un.Org. https://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/documents/1441.pdf.

Watts, Tom, and Rubrick Biegon. 2017. Defining Remote Warfare: Security Cooperation. PDF. London: Remote Control. https://css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/resources/docs/ORG_RemoteControl_SecCoop.pdf.


White, Nigel D, and Lydia Davies-Bright. 2017. “Chapter 7: Drone Strikes: A Remote Form Of Self-Defence?”. In Research Handbook On Remote Warfare.