Today’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “More Drones, Fewer Troops” looks at the policy behind the increasing use and reliance on drones, but it misses an essential point: unmanned warfare’s impact on public opinion and public diplomacy. While the technical and budgetary advantages of unmanned systems are front and center, their impact on foreign policy are often an aside, usually in the context of meddlesome by-products of using “drones.” We have seen, if not acknowledged, the powerful impact of human intervention (e.g. SEAL Team Six) over the powerful impact of robots, either remote controlled or autonomous. Leaving the issue of the public diplomacy of these activities on the margins of planning is short-sighted and unwise.
In my article “The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare” (Serviam, June 2008), I explored the impact of ground robots, intentionally avoiding flying drones because, since World War II, flyers and targets were largely anonymous from each: death rained from above. Today’s communication environment and technical advances are removing the “air gap” between the ground and the flyer, or drone in this case, allowing for direct links between policy and the people on the ground.
This topic requires a deeper discussion. Public diplomacy and strategic communication must be on the take-offs of drones, not just the landings, crash landings or otherwise. In lieu of an organization that could look at this, I invite comments and articles on the subject to be posted at MountainRunner.us.
See also Unintended Consequences of Armed Robots in Modern Conflict from October 2007.