UK spends £2bn on MoD drones – commits £2bn more

IssueNovember 2012
News by Gabriel Carlyle

While campaigning against drone strikes reached new heights this autumn, including the Imran Khan convoy in Pakistan, the last two months were dominated by two drone-related reports.

The British government has spent or committed £2bn towards developing and deploying pilotless military drones, and it plans to spend at least another £2bn on developing and deploying an armed drone called 'Scavenger', Drone Wars UK revealed at the end of September.

The information was compiled by Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK from mainstream military journals and official documents (one released in response to a Freedom of Information request) and published in Shelling Out: UK Spending on Drones.

In the US, a Stanford University-New York University study Living Under Drones rejected the 'dominant narrative' about US drones in Pakistan, in which armed drones are 'a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling "targeted killing" of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts'.

After nine months of intensive research, Living Under Drones supported the estimate by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism that from June 2004 to mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed over 2,500 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.

The report lays emphasis on the psychological burden caused to civilians: 'Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.'

This trauma is worsened by the US practice of striking areas repeatedly, often killing rescuers.

Global protests

Cricketer-turned-Pakistani-politician, Imran Khan, led the best-reported anti-drones protest ever mounted in October, with a thousands-strong 'peace march' from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. 

The convoy, which included delegates from the US anti-war group Code Pink and from the British anti-death penalty group Reprieve, was stopped on 7 October on the borders of its destination: South Waziristan.

The next day, in the UK, the Methodist church, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain all condemned US drone strikes in Pakistan, arguing that they were illegal and incited violence.

Reverend Bill Anderson, Methodist district chair for Birmingham, was a core walker on the Drones Peace Walk.

On 8 October, Margaretta D'Arcy, 78, and Niall Farrell, 59, of Galway Alliance Against War were arrested after a 25-minute drones protest on the runway of Shannon airport in Ireland. 

The pair were marking the 11th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, the fact that drones transit through Shannon, 'and we think that drones are the most deadly weapon of war.'

Margaretta D'Arcy scattered the ashes of her late partner John Arden on the runway, saying afterwards: 'It was just nice, he should be there with me and be part of it – he would have approved.' John Arden, who died in March, was a Peace News columnist and later chair of the PN board (see our obituary).

Drone proliferation

Meanwhile, according to a September US government accountability office report, the number of countries possessing drones rose from 41 in 2005 to 76 in December 2011. Canada and Australia are planning to spend $1bn and $3bn respectively on drones, while Poland is planning to replace its fighter aircraft with armed drones.