Monday, May 6, 2013

Summary of Dr. Schelling's discussion on the Nuclear Test Ban, Global Zero and Climate Change

Upon my arrival Dr. Schelling was discussing the US Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  Dr. Schelling stated that in the 1960’s it was considered a symbolic act that was much appreciated. At the time there was much ongoing discussion about the effects of nuclear radiations and how people were worried about their children being affected. At the time nuclear tests were the problem, but not the nuclear war. The tests were more symbolic, and similarly when they began to do underground tests it did not arouse people’s antagonism that much as it did previously. If there was a comprehensive test ban, Nations would cheat. Those who want to cheat will do so with or without the ban. It is a simple task to hide nuclear fissile material without it being detected. The United States must make sure that its own nuclear arsenal is up to date. Some people in the senate and President Obama would want a comprehensive test ban. However, this test ban is more important in a symbolic way.
Dr. Schelling commented on global zero, stating that it may be possible to achieve global zero, but it will be a much dangerous world than it is now. The United States had Nuclear weapons when the world did not have them. What will happen if a major war breaks out? All nations would still try to build a bomb for that extra safe measure. Even if we could get India, Pakistan and Iran to eliminate their facilities, they still have knowledge of the weapon and how to make them. You cannot eliminate them entirely. It is hard to believe that a responsible government would not keep enough nuclear fissile material hidden without detection. Thus, in case of war any government could make a weapon in five months or even five weeks. This would mean that a global zero situation, the world would be a more nerve racking place---unless we can guarantee no war.
Upon being questioned upon his views on climate change Dr. Schelling stated President Obama would probably be the one who leads responsible energy use in America. But he faces strong opposition. Climate change would probably ecologically affect the poorest countries in Asia and Africa. He encouraged students to study the new interdisciplinary fields of climate and the effects of climate change.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thomas Schelling Discussion with SIS Dean

Hey folks,

This blogpost contains my summary/response to Thomas Schelling's discussion with the SIS Dean this past Thursday (4/25). If other people attended the event and wrote a response please feel free to post it. If you did not attend the event but have thoughts on the subject you're encouraged to comment.

            Thomas Schelling brought up many relevant points to our class relating to the nuclear taboo, nuclear zero, and the pursuit of nuclear weapons by non-state actors. He strongly believed that the strength of the nuclear taboo is enduring, emphasizing that there have been at least 8 wars where at least one of the belligerents has had nuclear weapons. Two of the most tempting situations were the Falklands War and the Yom Kippur War. In the Falklands war England could have very well detonated a nuclear device at sea to wipe out the Argentinian navy with close to zero civilian casualties. And when the Egyptian army crossed into the Israeli side of the Sinai Peninsula again the Israelis could have launched a tactical nuke to wipe out the Egyptian Army in the middle of a desert with very little civilian collateral damage. Despite the appeal of nuclear weapons in both of these situations the belligerents refrained from use, which speaks to how uncomfortable states are with nuclear weapons.
            I believe the stigma of using a nuclear device in either of these situations greatly outweighed the benefit of their use. Especially in Israel’s scenario, the Egyptians promised not to advance past the Sinai, further into Israeli territory. If Egypt did seem to indicate that they would march further into Israeli territory then a nuclear weapon could very well have been detonated over the Egyptian Army.
            Schelling also brought up a number of points regarding nuclear zero that I strongly agree support. Even if actors managed to dispose of all the nuclear devices there is no way to erase the knowledge of how to build and use a device. There is nothing keeping a country from storing small amounts of weapons grade uranium in secret to protect themselves. I am of the position that nuclear weapons are a stabilizing force that enhances global security, and as illustrated in the previous section states have exercised tremendous restraint in their use. A nuclear zero world would not necessarily be a more secure world.
            With regard to non-state actors and nuclear weapons Schelling pointed out the low probability of their successful use. The process by which a terrorist group or other non-state actor must go through to acquire a nuclear weapon is tremendously costly and fairly easy to detect. A terrorist group would first have to find someone to sell them the nuclear material which is not easy but at the same time easily detectable. Then they would have to acquire the dozens of experts necessary to produce a weapon, which again is a very difficult task that I doubt there are even enough people in world willing to fulfill.
            If a group is able to overcome all these obstacles Schelling mentioned that there is much more to gain from an undetonated nuclear device than one that has already been used. It is likely that actors would rather use a bomb as leverage rather than immediately use it because once the nuclear device is used that group will have no such leverage over the United States or other target.
            He concluded his discussion with a fantasy where a CIA agent and Israeli Mossad agent are each after a terrorist group that is searching for a nuclear device. But instead of finding that group they find each other, shake hands and part ways. This is because of the low likelihood that a group could acquire or would even try to acquire a nuclear device.
            Overall Schelling’s discussion reinforced the sense of security I have in a world with nuclear weapons. While they do threaten human security in countries such as Iran and North Korea where whole populations are forced to suffer in the pursuit of a nuclear device, I do not feel that the detonation of nuclear device is particularly likely, and overall they are positive force in the world.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Predator Drones: Literature Review

Literature Review on Predator Drones
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UVA’a) or drones are defined as an unmanned aircraft that does not carry a human operator and is capable of flight under remote control or autonomous programming (Department of Defence 2012). The United States relies heavily on its predator drone program to eliminate enemies in its overseas armed conflicts, specifically in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The use of these drones is not new, however the nature of their use currently has changed. Throughout the 20th century drones were used mostly for surveillance and intelligence gathering, however now they are used for targeted killings of enemy combatants (Khan 2011).  According to a study conducted by Dunn et al. suggests that the use of UVA’s by the United States has increased over the passed decade. Data suggests that over 1300 strikes have been conducted against various enemy targets, killing almost 3000 insurgents and 500 civilians  (Dunn, Wheeler and Wolff). The technical precision of these weapons has been under controversy. One factor that results in reduced target precision is the delay between movement on the ground and the arrival of the image via satellite to the drone pilot  (Living Under Drones 2012). However, the problem that still needs to be addressed is that even though drones are much more efficient and cost beneficial than traditional means of warfare, their precision still is limited. Even when drones are precise their resulting casualties and damages are not necessarily confined to a specific individual, vehicle or building targeted. Its blast radius can extend anywhere to 15-20 metres and blast material may be projected to significant distances from the blast (ibid).
The rationale for the United States for using drone warfare and its subsequent legal justification stems from the  Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), a resolution passed by congress upon the aftermath of 9/11. The AUMF allows the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, comitted, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harboured such organizations or persons” (Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001)). The problem with this, however is that it gives the President expansive powers to declare any individual or organization as an enemy, and also it fails to impose geographic boundaries of any kind (Vogel 2010-11). Vogel also argues that as long as the laws of armed conflict (Jus in bello) are adhered to, drone strikes are completely justified in their application (2010-11:139).
The matter still cannot be laid to rest. There are many ambiguities in Vogel’s approach. This fact is visible in the terminology used in addressing the victims of drone strikes. The media that reports on drone strikes tends to lump the affectees into two categories: civilians or militants (Khan 2011). This reinforces widespread ambiguities and misunderstandings that all “militants” are legitimate targets for the use of lethal force, and that any drone strike conducted against these militants is lawful. This binary distinction of militant/civilian inevitably enables political discourse to make sweeping generalizations of the drone program’s efficiency, efficacy and accuracy, which is also questionable from a legal perspective, and also the reliability in determining the status of a victim as a “militant” (Living Under Drones 2012).  Moreover there is not much of a distinction between high and low value targets, and how much of collateral damage is permissible for this (x) specific high value  target?  The New America Foundation reported that less than 13% of drone strikes carried out under President Obama have killed a militant leader. (Peter Bergen and Megan Braun, Drone is Obama’s Weapon of Choice, CNN (Sept. 6, 2012)). Bergen and Braun also report that since 2004, some 49 “militant leaders” have been killed in drone strikes, constituting “2% of all drone-related fatalities” (ibid).
The impact of drone strikes upon the local population must also be taken onto account, as the strikes result in serious economic, social and political implications. The most direct impact of the strikes after killings and injuries include damage to property and economic hardship. The victims and their relatives suffer severe emotional trauma. Moreover the constant presence of drones hovering above residential areas leaves the locals traumatized and fearful of a sudden attack. It affects the willingness of locals to engage in a wide variety of social and political activities where there is a requirement of a large gathering of people. People fear that they may be mistaken for being a militant (Living Under Drones 2012). People have stopped sending their children to school, disrupted their social gatherings and thus undermine community life for example, attending funerals or weddings all in fear of their safety (ibid.).


Department of Defence, 331 Joint Publication 1-02. "Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms." 2010.

Dunn, David Hastings, Nicholas J. Wheeler and Stefan Wolff. "The Political Effects of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles on Conflict and Cooperation Within and Between States." n.d.

Khan, Akbar Nasir. "The US' Policy of Targeted Killings By Drones in Pakistan." Islamabad Policy Research Institute Journal 11.1 (2011): 21-40.

"Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan." Stanford Law School; NYU School of Law, 2012.

Vogel, Ryan J. "Drone Warfare and the Law of Armed Conflict." Denver Journal of Law and International Policy 39.1 (2010-2011): 101-138.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Drones Group: Definition

1.    Defining Drones
Defining the term “drones” and their impact on contemporary global security issues proves challenging for several reasons. Firstly, there is limited consensus on what a drone actually is and what is needed to make a piece of technology a drone. What is it that the term “drone” refers to? What does it include, and what does it leave out? This in turn makes it difficult to ascertain and determine the many different types of drones and the differences between them. Should a drone be classified by its specifications, limitations or overall purpose? This definition will attempt to address the use and misuse of the term “drone” and provide a basic understanding of how different actors define drones. I will also address the different types of drones available, and their purpose in contemporary military combat in order to introduce the basic arguments surrounding their place in contemporary global security issues.

Is there a consensus definition we can use?
Broadly speaking, a “drone” commonly defined as;
“a pilotless aircraft operated by remote control”
That is, aircraft either controlled by ‘pilots’ from the ground or increasingly, autonomously following a pre-programmed mission (Cole & Wright, 2010).

What is a “drone”?
The term “drone” has developed over the years to encompass an entire spectrum of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (from here referred to as UAVs), which are powered aerial vehicles that do not carry a human operator. UAVs have been referred to in many ways, including RPV (remotely piloted vehicle), robot plane, and pilotless aircraft (Bolkom & Bone, 2003). Whilst the term “drone” has come to be synonymous with unmanned aircraft, it can also be used to refer to ships and land vehicles that are designed or outfitted as drones. However, the term does not include underwater vessels, which are usually referred to as submersibles.

How have different actors defined Drones?
Before presenting our definition on the term “drone” and what is encompasses, it is important to address how other actors have defined the term.
The Department of Defense (DOD) defines a drone using 5 main classifications;
1.    A powered, aerial vehicles that do not carry a human operator
2.    Must use aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift
3.    Can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely
4.    Can be expendable or recoverable
5.    Can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.

Our definition:
For the purposes of our analysis, we can deduce that in order for a vehicle to be called a “drone”, it must encompass the following things;
1.    Be capable of operating without an internal pilot
2.    Be tethered to a radio control link
3.    Posses the ability to be preprogrammed for both flight and payload operations prior to launch
4.    Posses the capability of returning to launcher
This definition is useful for several reasons. Firstly, it establishes that the vehicle must be capable of operating without an internal pilot. Unlike cruise missiles, which have to be laboriously prepared and launched over a period of hours, “drones provide a persistent presence over the battlefield [and are] capable of gathering their own intelligence” (Grossman, 2013; p1), providing an instantaneous response. Secondly, this definition builds on that provided by the DOD to exclude any vehicle that is not tethered to a radio control link. The second aspect of the definition removes any aerial vehicles that rely solely on aerodynamic lift, such as gliders, to stay airborne. The third aspect of this definition distinguishes drones from remotely-controlled aircraft, such as small hobby planes, as it requires the vehicle to be capable of operating out of line of sight and at altitudes where a person on the ground cannot readily see them.  The reason why our definition includes a drones capability of returning to the launcher is to distinguish UAVs from missiles. Whilst it can be argued that a cruise missile be considered a UAV, this definition ensures that it is treated separately on the basis that the vehicle is the weapon and is not designed to return to the launcher or posses the capability to be re-used.

2.    Types of Drones
While there are dozens of different types of drones, they can be simply separated into two categories: those that are used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes, and those that are armed with weapons (Cole & Wright 2010). Drones can range in size from an insect to that of a commercial airliner.
The DOD currently possesses five major UAVs; the Air Force’s Predator and Global Hawk, the Navy and Marine Corps’s Pioneer and the Army’s Hunter and Shadow (Bone and Bolkcom, 2003). One of the most popular drones used in the American UAV fleet is the Predator drone; approximately 27 feet- long and capable of flying for 24 hours at up to 26,000 feet. These larger drones are often armed with Hellfire missiles and are used to conduct strikes, in addition to higher altitude reconnaissance. The smaller drones of the American UAV fleet are primarily used for reconnaissance and target acquisition. Recent examples of the use of drones include arming UAVs (in particular the Predator and Hunter drone type) to extend the eyes of submarines and connecting UAVs to strike aircraft and armed helicopters as a way to improve targeting. These UAV range in cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars.

Drone Equipment:
Depending on its purpose, a drone can be equipped with armament, radar, video cameras, lasers, or sensors for chemical or biological weapons. Guidance of the drone can originate from an airplane, a ship, a ground station, or a satellite link. Tests completed by NASA and the U.S. Defense Department in California's Mojave Desert have shown that small UAV’s carry the technology “to automatically protect themselves from ground collisions using terrain data and control software stored onboard” (Norris 2010: p1) with just the use of a smartphone. The automatic ground collision avoidance system (Auto-GCAS) uses precise navigation, performance and digital terrain data in the phone to constantly monitor the UAV’s position relative to obstacles around it  (Norris 2010; p1).

Actors involved:
Typically, there are three actors needed for the successful use of a drone.
1.    A “ground crew” – an actor who launches the drone from the conflict zone
2.    A “controller” – the actor responsible for ‘flying’ the drone. This can sometimes require the use of a another separate actor responsible for operating and monitoring any auxiliary cameras and sensors
3.    A “contact” actor – responsible for staying in contact and relaying information to the “customers”, such as ground troops and commanders in the war zone
For example, in both Afghanistan and Iraq the British and US Reaper and Predator drones are physically located in the conflict zone and operated via satellite from Nellis and Creech USAF base outside Las Vegas, Nevada. During the conflict, ground crews launched drones from the conflict site and then handed over operation of the vehicle to controllers at video screens in specially designed trailers in the Nevada desert (Norris, 2012).

3.    Use of Drones
UAVs no longer only perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Their roles have expanded to areas including electronic attack (EA), strike missions, suppression and/or destruction of enemy air defense, network communications relay and combat search and rescue. In my opinion, the 6 main uses of Drones can be broken down as follows;

1.     Target and decoy - providing ground and aerial gunnery a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile
2.     Reconnaissance - providing battlefield intelligence
3.     Combat - providing attack capability for high-risk missions
4.     Research and development - used to further develop UAV technologies to be integrated into field deployed UAV aircraft
5.     Civil and Commercial UAVs - UAVs specifically designed for civil and commercial applications.

Whilst the use of drones is predominantly for military applications, they are also being used in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as policing, firefighting, and nonmilitary security work. A year ago Obama ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to “expedite the process of integrating UAVs into civilian airspace” (Grossman, 2013), There are many possible uses of UAVs within society. For example, police departments could use them to study crime scenes to collect recent evidence in a more accurate and descriptive manner than is possible with current investigative technology.

The Use of Drones in The USA
The US has two separate ‘squadron’ of armed drones; one programmed controlled by the US Air Force and one controlled by the CIA (Cole and Wright 2010).  The use of drones in the US military has dramatically increased in recent times. Ten years ago the Pentagon had about 50 drones in its fleet; currently it has some 7,500. More than a third of the aircraft in the Air Force's fleet are now unmanned. The use of drones by the United States Air Force (USAF) has lead to “an increase in the number of combat air patrols it can fly by 600 percent over the past six years” (Cole and Wright, 2010). The work of Cole & Wright (2010) suggests that at any time there are “at least 36 American armed UAVS over Afghanistan and Iraq”.

Why Use Drones?
From a logical standpoint, the regulated use of Drones in the military is useful for several reasons;
·      Unlike cruise missiles, which have to be laboriously targeted and prepped for launch over a period of hours, drones can be made readily available quickly
·      Drones are can present a persistent presence over the battlefield, gathering their own intelligence and then providing an instantaneous response.
·      They represent a revolution in the idea of what combat is: enables force to be exerted instantly
·      Prevents the risk of incurring American casualties
·      Transcends the usual boundaries of geography


Bolkcom, C. & Bone, E. (2003), ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress’, Congressional Research Service: The Library of Congress, OC: RL31872, April 25 2003

Cole, C. & Wright J. (2010), ‘What are Drones?’, Peace News, Jan. 2010, pp. 1-2

Grossman, L. (2013), ‘Drone Home’, Time Magazine, Feb. 11 2013, pp. 1-2

Department of Justice, ‘Department of Justice White Paper: Lawfulness of a Lethal operation Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force’

Morey, J. (2012), ‘Drone Strikes and the Definition of War’,, November 28th, pp. 1-2

Norris, G. (2012), ‘Wake-up Call’, Aviation Week & Space Technology, vol. 174, edn. 28, p. 39

Unknown authors, (2011), ‘The UAV’,

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Systems Association, (2013), ‘UAV or UAS’,

Further Readings

Living Under Drones
Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic

Drone Warfare and the Law of Armed Conflict
Discusses the use of drones to target and kill enemies in current armed conflicts

UAV Types
Information and gallery of pictures on the different types of Drones

The Rise of Drones
A very informative video on the use of drones

UAV Requirements and Design Consideration
This Turkish source outlines UAV requirements and specifications based on battlefield experience