The Rise of the Drones

This past summer the Department of Geography at Indiana University hosted a conference that investigated the intersection of geography, politics, and ethics of drone warfare. The three day event brought together a varied group of scholars to discuss how seemingly value-neutral drone technology has become militarized in a variety of contexts.

While some have questioned whether drones can be used for social good, others argue that drone militarization represents the blurred lines between private and public warfare.

CODEPINK activist Medea Benjamin remarked in her keynote speech that drone pilots, operating from offices based in the United States, can easily make a salary six times higher than working for the government.

Senior military officials also profit handsomely by taking management positions in the private drone sector.

The displacement of war is not without its costs, as PTSD diagnoses tend to be common for drone pilots.

It is not just the pilots who suffer.

Some argue that the indiscriminate nature of drone strikes disproportionately affect individuals unaffiliated with enemy combatants. Others propose that the death of innocents is an unfortunate byproduct of the nature of the enemies that drones are utilized to target.

Flickr Creative Commons (via thierry ehrmann)

Rise of the Drones. ( Photo by thierry ehrmann. Flickr Creative Commons.)

While much of the conversation around drone warfare is pointed at the U.S. it is shortsighted to implicate a single nation.

Drones produced in China have made their way to Nigeria as that state’s military continues its fight against Boko Haram.

Global governmental fervor surrounding drones has forced many to question whether we need to revisit airspace regulations as private citizens increasingly pick up drones as a hobby.

National conversations over drone technology have polarized just who can and should have access to the machines.

Earlier this year journalists from Al-Jazeera were arrested for flying a drone in a Paris park.

In the U.S. a private citizen incurred anger from firefighters in California for operating a drone near a wildfire they were trying to extinguish.

While the tension between warfare and national airspace represent two very different avenues of the drone discussion, they are hardly the end of the conversation.

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