The Dangers Of Cheap Military Drone Technology: A Threat From Above In Libya

When crisis becomes the new normal

It is hard to write a current affairs article without acknowledging that the geopolitical climate has been dramatically shifting over the last few weeks. The use of terms such as ‘crisis’ and ‘unprecedented’ are now prevalent in everyday discussion. As the recent UN ‘Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity’ 2020 report identifies that whilst this is a global crisis, it will not be one which affects countries equally. For those living Libya, everyday forms of crisis and unprecedented times have not materialized in the same way they have globally. Instead daily life has been charred by years of dynamic international conflict, civil war and vast flows of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Notably, in Libya the most recent conflict between the government of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, backed by the United Nations, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army has become both a violent and prolonged war. One which has left this nation with one of the least prepared health systems in the world to deal with an aggressive pandemic.

Libya has been the centre of a complex conflict which begun after the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011 by a Euro-American coalition. Following this there has been a scramble for authority as conflict over oil, territory and power emerged between those who remained. Here, each group has been pushing for control over the 6.4 million people who live in Libya and in the vacuum left by the death of a volatile dictator who ruled for 42 years. Significantly, this conflict has been dominated by emerging technologies of war. Namely, drones, which have the ability to stretch the sovereignty of nations. This marks a dangerous trend in the increasing access and availability of drone technology. It also reveals the horrible consequences of warfare funded by powerful nations playing geopolitical games. I argue that such technology clearly blends the boundaries between profit, politics and warfare. This current crisis, and many more escalated by the use of drone technology, foreground the need to continue to oppose the catastrophic reality of war profiteering.

The Unique challenge of drone warfare

The Libya conflict has been concentrated in Tripoli, mainly fought from the skies using sophisticated, yet cheap (relatively) Chinese made Wing Loong drones ($1 million – $2 million) and Turkish made TB2s. David Axe, reporting for The National Interest, notes that “Beijing has been eager to cash-in on the arms trade.” This affordable but deadly weaponry has gone a long way to increase causalities and prolong this proxy war. Umar Farooq, writing for ‘The Intercept’ has noted that “the genie is out bottle.” This is because historically the US Predator drone ($15 million), along with its other sophisticated drones, have been somewhat politically controlled as their great fiscal cost also reduces risk of their ubiquitous use. Furthermore, there is always some level of government approved check before they are sold. However, new cheaper options sold by China, along with those made by more periphery nations such as Turkey, have emerged and will inevitably begin to dominate the future of warfare. Here, bombs are detonated from afar which will continue to remove the human consequences of warfare from view. As Chris Cole from the Drone Wars Research Group notes; “drones lower the threshold for use of lethal force.” This is combined with the use of remote warfare technology, which combats “averse public reaction to the death of military forces deployed overseas.”

Furthermore, I believe that the need for greater attention of the geolegality of the use of drones is essential to minimize conflict. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recently drawn attention to the “dire humanitarian situation in Libya” and calls for international efforts “to ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid throughout the country.” Notably, this identifies the greater vulnerability of conflict areas to the coronavirus pandemic. The current crisis is already stressing countries with world leading health systems and risks a detrimental impact in countries with conflict or less resources. The Organisation for World Peace is aware of this threat and calls for the continued support of the international community in this region and beyond as collaboration on a global scale is the only way to win the battle against COVID-19. Libya needs this support now more than ever.