Soviet Memory, Susceptible Countries, Drones, and the ICRC Handbook to Protect Civilians

8 May 2022

From Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, a concise description of the Soviet, and in large part post-Soviet mind, from the opening lines of chapter 8:

We forget everything. What we remember is not what actually happened, not history, but merely that hackneyed dotted line that they have chosen to drive into our memories by incessant hammering.

Moving to other parts of eastern Europe, there are many countries that are subject to the same forces.  We must pay attention- individually and as governments, to Viktor Orban in Hungary, Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, to Dodic in Republica Srbska, and Vučić in Serbia. Let’s add in Erdoğan in Turkey as well. These leaders do not complete the list; there are countless others working under, for and against all of them, and in so many other countries, ready to fill any power vacuum should it open up. Looking beyond Ukraine, what happens in these countries will be potentially as important for the future of Europe. Remember that the fight is not against a single ruler, but against a system, an ideology, an ignorance that corrupts individuals, families, small towns and entire countries.

Next, drones, and the future of warfare. It is clear that their effective use in Ukraine is leading to the eventual Ukrainian victory over Russia. (Clear to me at any rate; I remain optimistic that good will triumph.)  The Turkish-made Bayraktur TB2 drone is one of the UAV’s that is in use. It has a cost of 5 million USD each, and has a wide range of uses, has an 18,000 feet operational altitude, 27 hours maximum airtime, a payload capacity of 150 kg, a range of 300 kilometers, and carries 4 laser guided munitions.  This is a multi-use drone.

The U.S.-made AeroEnvironment Switchblade 600 is an entirely different type of drone, costing only 6000 USD each. It’s range is 40 kilometers, flight time is 40 minutes, and it carries one anti-armor warhead. It is proving to be highly lethal, and worth every penny.

The use of drones is morally questionable to some. A paper from September of 2020 addressing the question is Drones and War: The Impact of Advancement in Military Technology on Just War Theory and the International Law of Armed Conflict.  To summarise the arguments made in the paper, the use of drones creates a power disparity, knowledge disparity, and their precision creates another level of disparity- drones create an extreme asymmetry in warfare, and thus make their use immoral.

I counter the argument with this: if you are defending your sovereign, peaceful nation which has been invaded by aggressors that indiscriminately kill, commit war crimes with no fear of retribution, disregard the Geneva Convention and the rules of modern war, you have every right and indeed an obligation to defend against and destroy your enemy with weapons that do so with precision, accuracy, and immediate effect.

If you would like to read more about how modern conflicts are approached by countries who attempt to maintain the moral high ground, the International Committee for the Red Cross has just released a handbook for commanders and staff in partnered military operations.  A partial description of the book from the ICRC page reads:

The handbook offers planning and decision-making considerations for avoiding or lessening adverse humanitarian effects on civilian populations. It presents proactive, pragmatic practices to foster Law of Armed Conflict compliance by partners; to identify, avert, or mitigate potential risks to civilians; to positively influence partner behaviour; and to stimulate awareness in partners’ and own force’s behaviour and actions that can potentially harm civilians.

An electronic copy of Preventing Civilian Harm in Partnered Military Operations: A Commander’s Handbook can be downloaded by clicking the linked.

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