In the flat green fields of Lincolnshire and in the shadow of one of the country’s most spectacular cathedrals, the control centre for one of the most controversial new tools of war has found a new home.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones as they are better known, are now operated from RAF Waddington, an airbase just a stones throw outside Lincoln, the city I live in and just a couple of weekends ago, at the end of April hundreds of protestors descended on the city to demonstrate against the use of the drones by British forces.
Being a resident of Lincoln and with the RAF base in question, literally just a couple of miles from my front door I have taken a keen interest in the story of the drones, their use and the protest. It has been particularly interesting to read and hear the response to the protest from other residents of the city. Lincoln is traditionally a fiercely pro-military city and as well as the drone base it is also close to the home of the Red Arrow display team, it is not uncommon to see the display team wheeling across the Lincoln skyline. The county is not unused to being a military hub, Lincolnshire airbases have been used as part of the early warning system during the cold war and weaponised planes were deployed from the region during the Falklands conflict and WWII.
Unsurprisingly due to the military history of Lincolnshire the protest organised by Stop the War, CND, The Drone Campaign Network and War on Want seems to have little impact on the local people. Having spoken to people in Lincoln and reading comments in the local media, it appears that the general consensus is generally in favour of or ambivalence towards the use of drones.
It has been argued by the pro-drone lobby that one of the benefits of having these weapons so close to home brings war and its effects in to vision. For the vast majority of us alive today, war has been something on our television screens and in our newspapers, not something taking place on our streets and in our homes. Recent British conflicts have been fought hundreds or even thousands of miles away and the only painful reminder to the ordinary British citizen is the sight of coffins draped in union flags returning from foreign lands, all the other dirty mess of war happens somewhere else to someone else. So the argument is, that having drones fly from Lincolnshire will make politicians more accountable to us, as they will have a more direct say in their deployment and those of us who see them operated will scrutinise their use more closely.
I worry though, that while this is nice argument it just won’t hold true. To believe that because weapons are in our back yard will cause more scrutiny seems problematic. Just look to the USA for how drones can be used, the biggest deployers of drones have used them in civilian areas causing hundreds of innocents to be killed, they’ve also used them to assassinate their own citizens and against countries they are not even at war with. Despite this controversial use of drones, Obama has won a second term in office, escaped major criticism relating to drones and his popularity drop in recent polls has been attributed to his handling of the economy, not his foreign policy. While it is important to clarify that to date, Britain has only used drones in Afghanistan, it is easy to see the various ethical debates surrounding drone use.
So while there is an argument that drone use and deployment from Britain will bring accountability to politicians and military leaders, could the counter argument not also hold true? Because our wars may now be fought remotely from thousands of miles away, the whole concept of war will become an even more distant and abstract concept for us in Britain. Wars will be more readily fought because the stakes for us are lower, and the reverberations from those wars will more than likely not be felt by the people of Lincolnshire or anyone else in Britain.