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Remote Control Project: Remote-control warfare briefing #08

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23 January 2015

new briefing, commissioned by the Remote Control Project, finds that remote warfare tactics – the use of special forces, drones, private military and security companies (PMSCs) and cyber warfare – are coming back to haunt the states that use them, deeming these methods problematic and ineffective.

The Remote-control warfare briefing #08, by Open Briefing, finds that:

  • The use of special forces in domestic terrorist attacks, such as France, Australia and Canada, risks transplanting Middle East battlefields to European cities: The use of special forces in domestic terrorist attacks heightens the sense of moving the battlefield closer to home and is at odds with the dominant ‘control paradigm’ and the preferred strategies of remote-control warfare (actioning warfare at a distance), revealing inconsistencies with the current security approach.
  • The fallout from the Sony hack reveals broader challenges in cyber security and shows cyber attacks to be the perfect asymmetric warfare for non-state actors: The Sony hack highlights the technical challenge of cyber attack attribution as well as the ambiguous relationship between state and non-state actors.  Concerns over how to respond to cyber attacks are also raised, in particular the lack of clearly defined legal standards and international norms in the area.  A recent report from the Remote Control Project, by VERTIC, warns that this lack of legal clarity and the highly securitised debate around cyber issues may have destabilising effects, including increased surveillance on citizens and a ‘cyber arms race’ between states.
  • The proliferation of drones has provided terrorist groups with armed drone capabilities presenting a major potential threat to key sites and personnel in West: Over 20 unidentified drone flights have been reported over French nuclear power stations since October 2014 and a drone was seen flying over a nuclear power station in Belgium. Drones could also be used to target tourist sites and government infrastructure. In London, an increased use of drones around locations such as Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and major shopping centres and airports have been reported and in the US a number of arrests have been made for plotting to fly armed drones into buildings.
  • The use of PMSCs in conflict zones risk losing the state monopoly on the use of force and are increasingly being used in more theatres across the globe: Nearly all the 1, 800 US government contractors currently working in Iraq work for the US state department and it is probable that they will become gradually engaged in direct combat roles against Islamic State. Elsewhere, Putin has signed a law allowing foreign mercenaries to contribute to the Russian military and it has been revealed that 100, 000 private security contractors operate in Honduras (this is three times the number of police officers in the country).

Taken together, these developments show a worrying trend that remote warfare tactics are leading to unintended consequences, having a counter-productive impact on states that are using them.

For more information or expert analysis on any of the above stories please contact:

Esther Kersley
+44 (0)207 549 0298

Editor’s notes:

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.

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.

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.


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