Droning on and on and on and…

I have a confession to make.  I am a Trekkie.

Well, not really.  I don’t get dressed up and go to Star Trek conventions.  I don’t adorn my walls with posters (the walls are reserved for Lord of the Rings!).  And I still can’t do that Vulcan hand thingie.  But I do love the show (make that shows) and have been watching them since the original 1960s series (yes, I am THAT old).

Of all the races and species that fascinate me from the Star Trek universe none are as compelling as the Klingons.  This war- and honour-obsessed people may in fact be a reflection of human society, given our long predilection for conflict.

Yes, Klingons never back down from a fight and are fond of saying “Today is a good day to die”.  They see face to face battle as an extension of their honour system.  And, a Klingon would NEVER use a drone to attack an enemy.

I know that this is going to get me into trouble, but I have to say it.  The use of drones in the inaptly named “war on terror” is a mistake.  And one for which we will probably pay dearly down the line (click here for a similar take on my position).

I also know why some see drones as a solution.  They do not put human lives at risk (really?  See below).  They can operate for days on end with no need for rest.  They can go places humans can’t.  And so on.  There have clearly been some successes through their use (but, interestingly, it was a human team that took out Bin Laden).

And yet, the downsides of using drones are seldom mentioned.  They can kill the wrong people (i.e. civilians otherwise known disgustingly as “collateral damage”.  Most thinking people accept that the collateral death toll is much higher than officially reported although it must be acknowledged that data is hard to gather and both sides undoubtedly exaggerate their claims).  They cause immense anxiety in the communities they fly over, especially among children and people who have nothing to do with terrorism.  And perhaps, most crucially, they may be inhibiting what those who use them are actually trying to achieve – fight terrorism.

There is a lot of anecdotal reporting suggesting that the use of drones – and the death and destruction they cause – is feeding hatred and ill-well towards the West.  Victims’ families are surely more willing to work with extremists to compensate for their losses.  The fewer people we have to help us identify extremists and work to undermine their message, the harder the job to eradicate terrorism is.  The strategy may end up hurting us more.

I will not be surprised one day if we look back at the growing impersonalisation and mechanisation of war and the drone mania and realise how ill-considered the whole idea was.  War is nasty and should remain so.  If you are going to take a person’s life – even if justified -shouldn’t you have to look that person in the eye (and not push a button from a hut 10,000 km away)?

I am going to end this with another Star Trek story.  In one original series episode, two planets have sanitised war to the point where computers decide on casualties and effected communities walk passively into disintegration chambers.  Not surprisingly, Captain Kirk steps in to stop this and forces the leaders of the planets to face the error of their ways and seek compromise, horrified that they may have to return to “real” warfare.  All resolved in a one-hour episode.  Pretty impressive, eh?

In fact if more people watched Star Trek, we’d all be a lot better off.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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