All of the journalistic articles on drone pilots start the same way. They paint a picture of the environment in Nevada- the heat, the air conditioning, the flickering screens, the watching, waiting, and then the sudden orders to release the hellfire missiles. They report the pilot’s experiences of watching individuals, half a world away, dismembered, bleeding, crawling, struggling and eventually dying. They report the pilots watching, angel like, over troops on the ground- searching for IEDs, wrestling with communication problems to try to save the lives of buddies in theatre. Sometimes, they miss or they are too late. Sometimes these pilots are bored and desperate to get at the amorphous enemy. Then these articles tell us that drone pilots are feeling stressed.

Particularly Universal

Violent conflicts around the world have repeatedly demonstrated that polarised differences in perceptions of the legitimacy of violence perpetrated by one’s own society, as opposed to that of an “other”, can prove catastrophic. Traditional political approaches to conflict based on conscious, rational choices made by the actors involved can only go so far in grappling with the issues underlying such differences.

Drones Murch

The US has claimed that the killing of Mehsud is in the interests of both Pakistan and the United States, Pakistani officials have been vocal in opposition of this perspective, deriding the action as: “the death of all peace efforts”.

Vrabel Afghanistan

On October 7th the US-led invasion to Afghanistan has marked its 12th year. Despite the Western efforts to redevelop this severely war-torn country, the Afghan population remains among the poorest in the world. For many, the principal problem lies in the West’s and currently also the Afghan Government’s inability to solve the security problem and to find a source of revenue for its economy.

Rhys Aesthetics

In response to the recent al-Shabaab attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, COBRA, the UK’s Cabinet Office briefing room A, met for the third time this year. At the same time an alternative COBRA met in a small pub in Whitehall. This alternative COBRA “was born out of a desire to engage critically and creatively with the increased use of aesthetics and performance by the UK government to promote, explain and justify its labelling of an event as ‘an emergency’”. COBRA: A Critical Response was set up in early 2013 and as a group of artists they respond to official COBRA meetings with a critical aesthetic that challenges political performance in times of emergency.

Hearts and Minds

“Numerous countries and regions face or will face insurgencies; and undoubtedly, it will be in our interest to help at least some of those countries counter those insurgencies, even if we do so in ways that do not involve large military footprints.”- General David H Petraeus (Rtd)

Whilst the costly engagements of Iraq and Afghanistan look set to herald a return to the ‘proper business of soldiering’, or major combat operations, for the armed forces of the west, the messy undertaking of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations cannot simply be discounted by military planners, no matter the unlikelihood of being called to carry them out in the near future.

Syria Chemicals

In his latest national address from the White House on September 10th, President Obama announced he is putting off seeking congressional authorisation for military strikes against the Syrian regime. Obama offered a qualified endorsement of the Russian proposal for a UN-led process of securing Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons. The interesting bit about Obama’s nationwide televised speech is actually what he did not say.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has requested this week that the EU lift recently imposed restrictions on financial assistance to Israeli institutions. This relatively minor sanction of Israeli action is intended to apply pressure on Israel with regards to its settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to encourage movement towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The European Union adopted guidelines in June this year which would preclude financing and cooperation with institutions in the territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. Secretary Kerry has asked the EU to suspend these restrictions in order to show the Israeli public the benefit of pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Kerry is reported as saying “I think it’s important that the Israeli people and the government see that coming to the talks, taking the risk of moving toward peace is worthwhile”

Prisoners' Dilemma

For those of us interested in the science and emotions of human cooperation, a recent study on the Prisoners’ Dilemma (hereafter PD) by Menusch Khadjavi and Andreas Lange of the Department of Economics at the University of Hamburg makes very interesting reading. Developed by game theorists in the immediate post-war period, and a favorite model of the strategists at the Rand Corporation as they gamed the Cold War strategic nuclear stand-off, the classic payoff structure of the game postulates that the best strategy for a rational player in a single-shot game is always to defect.


In conflict situations it is important, even essential, to know who it is you are fighting against. First to consider is the issue of the identity of the individual targeted by the drone strike, their status as civilian or combatant, and how that distinction is understood. Then there is the identity of the individual conducting the strike, whether they are military, CIA, or Private Military Contractor (PMC) and what this means legally and ethically. Finally, there is the identity of the drone itself, the way it creates a relationship between the individual conducting the strike and the target. The issue of identity is important because how we construct our understanding of the enemy, of the other, impacts on how we understand their death and the foreign policy decisions which follow.