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Remote Control project report: Securing Change: Recommendations for the British government regarding remote-control warfare

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4 June 2015


Image: Source: Sarah Joy on flickr

A new report, commissioned by the Remote Control project, urges the British government to move away from relying on remote-control warfare tactics in dealing with security and defence.

Securing Change, by Open Briefing, finds that remote warfare, increasingly used by a growing number of states including the UK, is ineffective at solving security problems. The report outlines some of the key unforeseen consequences from the use of these tactics, including:

  • Transposition of Middle Eastern battlefields to Western cities through the deployment of special forces to respond to terrorist incidents at home
  • Enabling of adversaries to develop sophisticated cyber offensive capabilities through reverse engineering the cyber weapons deployed against them
  • Risks presented by the terrorist use of weaponised civilian drones to attack critical national infrastructure or VIPs.

From the deployment of larger and more autonomous armed drones, to the development of ever more sophisticated cyber defence and offensive capabilities, the report also outlines the ways in which states are pursuing various ‘arms races’ in an attempt to maintain the strategic edge over their adversaries.

In light of these and the other trends discussed, Securing Change makes 31 specific recommendations for the new British government. These include:

  1. Improve the training, equipment and arsenals of police firearms units rather than increasingly diverting special forces to counter-terrorism at home.
  2. Develop national legislation specific to private military and security companies that better takes into account the peculiar nature of those companies, particularly those operating in conflict zones.
  3. Use the forthcoming National Security Strategy update to send clear signals to international partners on options to manage the proliferation of cyber weapons and flag the prioritisation of norm development in cyber warfare.

The report also urges more fundamental reforms, including:

  1. Actively support the creation of an effective international control regime for unmanned combat air vehicles and other armed drones.
  2. Consider initiating a national moratorium on the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems in order to allow international experts to more fully consider the practical and ethical questions raised by such systems.
  3. Move away from the broad approach of attempting to counter all extremism and towards concentrating finite resources on tackling those at highest risk of adopting violent approaches.

What is ultimately needed is a comprehensive rethink of defence and security strategy and a move away from remote-control warfare towards more enduring, accountable and effective responses to today’s multiple security threats.

Chris Abbot, lead author of the report says:

The recommendations presented in this report will allow the British government to mitigate some of the pitfalls of the current strategy. The hope is that innovators within cabinet, parliament and the Ministry of Defence will take them up and leave their mark through the promotion of lasting stability and security in the United Kingdom and more globally.



Chris Abbott
+44(0)7979 428 312
+44 (0)20 7193 9805

Editor’s notes:

Securing Change: Recommendations for the British Government Regarding Remote-control Warfare by Chris Abbott, Scott Hickie, Steve Hathorn and Raphaël Zaffran is published by Open Briefing on 4 June 2015.

Open Briefing is the world’s first civil society intelligence agency. It is a unique not-for-profit social enterprise that provides intelligence and research services to civil society organisations and concerned citizens. More information is available from www.openbriefing.org.

The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by the Oxford Research Group. Remote Control examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare. The project acts as a facilitator for the exchange of information and commissions and publicises work undertaken in the area, aiming to examine the long-term effects of remote warfare.

The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by Oxford Research Group. The project examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare.

Our publications are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.