Modern warfare is becoming increasingly defined by distance. Today, many Western and non-Western states have shied away from deploying large numbers of their own troops to battlefields. Instead, they have limited themselves to supporting the frontline fighting of local and regional actors against non-state armed forces through the provision of intelligence, training, equipment and airpower. This is remote warfare, the dominant method of military engagement now employed by many states. Despite the increasing prevalence of this distinct form of military engagement, it remains an understudied subject and considerable gaps exist in the academic understanding of it. Bringing together writers from various backgrounds, this edited volume offers a critical enquiry into the use of remote warfare.
‘In Chapter 2, ‘The Remote Warfare Paradox: Democracies, Risk Aversion and Military Engagement’, Jolle Demmers and Lauren Gould of Utrecht University’s Intimacies of Remote Warfare programme explore how the secrecy surrounding remote warfare removes war from public debate and potentially makes states more violent.
Liberal Western democracies are increasingly resorting to remote warfare to govern security threats from a distance. From the 2011 NATO bombings in Libya, the US Africa Command training of Ugandan soldiers to fight Al Shabaab, or the US-led coalition against IS in Syria and Iraq, violence is exercised from afar. Remote warfare is characterised by a shift away from ‘boots on the ground’ deployments towards light-footprint military interventions, and involves a combination of drone strikes and air-strikes, special forces, intelligence operatives, and private contractors, as well as military training teams assisting local forces to do the fighting, killing, and dying on the ground. Violence is thus exercised and facilitated, but without the ‘exposure’ of Western military men and women to opponents in a declared warzone under the condition of mutual risk.
The chapter aims to understand why we see this shift to remote warfare and reviews the moral and political challenges that this new way of war has given rise to. Our key argument is that the secrecy around remote warfare operations, their portrayal as ‘precise’ and ‘surgical’, as well as the asymmetrical distribution of death and suffering they entail, thwarts democratic political deliberation on contemporary warfare. We foresee that it is these qualities of remote warfare that will make Western liberal democracies not less, but more war prone.
This is the remote warfare paradox: the military violence executed is rendered so remote and sanitised, that it becomes uncared for, and even ceases to be the defined as war.