Royal Holloway, University of London
This is an account of the historical development and consequences of drone technology for the dynamics of war and peace. Michael Boyle traces the evolution of drones from primitive models such as US Kettering Bugs and the British's Larynx developed around the First World War to recent sophisticated killing robots such as Predators and Global Hawks. He links their development to contemporary political, strategic and historical imperatives, such as the stress on precision warfare after Vietnam and more recently humanitarian warfare. Boyle considers four major consequences of drones for war and peace: First, drone technology can cause goal displacement (mission creep in military jargon) by developing an impression of controllable risk. This can lead to an expansion of military objectives (e.g., a shift of drone warfare from Afghanistan to Pakistan) and make military solutions more attractive. Second, changes in risk calculations may cause leaders to become more aggressive. Third, the massive and unprecedented level of intelligence gathering (in 2009 alone, the US had 24 years' worth of footage from drones) can become an end in itself, inducing overconfidence. What Boyle does not sufficiently discuss is how this information flow can increase the probability of miscalculated attacks, for instance, in the absence of a sufficient cultural understanding of societies under surveillance. Finally, Boyle fears that operational efficiency rendered by drone technology can become an end itself subduing all other possible political and moral issues. In case of intra-state conflicts, acquisition of drones by powerful non-state groups will even out the distribution of vulnerabilities. On the other hand, drones in the hands of powerful and oppressive governments will have serious consequences for domestic dissent.