Skin in the Game

There’s been more dross in the popular media this week about ‘killer robot drones’ and this article from the Atlantic Journal got me thinking. Those thoughts didn’t really gel til tonight. After work – I almost always forget to turn on some ambient noise while I’m working – I put on a movie while doing some work around the house; you know, the cool stuff like laundry, dishes, bringing in wood, vacuuming, etc, etc…My selection was Stealth, a good bit of pounding hitech fun. I just happened to walk past the TV as the key players were discussing the implications of ‘robot’ war…the line went something like “…war is horrible, we know that and it’s the main reason that war is a last resort; but if we don’t have skin in the game any more, if it’s all machines – then we’ll have war all the time…”

So very true, and something that we seem to have forgotten – it’s not about cost-effectiveness, or superior precision, or any other military advantage that unmanned systems might bring to the party: it’s the cold but simple fact that unmanned systems relieve those that do not serve from the burden of, not guilt, but plain old inconvenient embarrassment in case some damn fool pilot decides to imitate Francis Gary Powers or get dragged through the streets of some dusty third world capital.

These distancing also takes the pilot out of the loop as well when it comes to pushing the button; contrary to what anyone might say, sitting in a room half a world away is not the same as being in the same missionspace as those he’s having a crack at…no skin in the game and we start to forget what it is that we are going, forget that there are actually people down there on the ground who may take some exception to being rudely bundled into some distant collateral damage calculation. It is one thing to strike a target in the heat of wartime and accidentally killing some bystanders or of striking the wrong building by accident while evading SAMs and AAA; and entirely another to grant yourself a license to strike where you want and when you want.

There are claims, well substantiated legally0-supported claims that the so-called drone strikes are conducted by legal right under international law, an inherent right to self-defence, and that your nation is at war. The trouble with that argument is that when you are the biggest by far kid on the block an argument of self-defence is difficult if not impossible to justify, even less so when you are not prepared to consider your end of the Drone Wars (and it does read like a bad Muppet-ridden George Lucas movie) as belligerents and subject to the same risks as your quarry. “Excuse us, Mr President, would it be OK if we lobbed a Hellfire missile at that Reaper pilot when he stops at the 711 for some milk on his way home from the war?” Skin in the game might take on a whole new meaning if someone decides to turn your rules against you – where do you want to draw the line? We won’t bomb your wedding parties if you don’t bomb ours?

Without skin in the game, we forget what war is really all about…that sort of complacency leads to weakness and weakness draws competition and predators (lower case predators, that is)…

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