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Remote Control Report: Remote Warfare (RW): developing a framework for evaluating its use

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17 March 2015

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion the royal Welsh regiment at the start of operation moshtarak in Helmand, Afghanistan. Source: UK

Lack of British security strategy has led to use of remote warfare as a ‘stop gap’ by the UK abroad, it is risky and irresponsible report warns

A new report, commissioned by the Remote Control project, finds that the lack of a UK security strategy has led to the use of remote warfare by the UK in a number of overseas conflicts as a ‘stop gap’. The report also warns that remote warfare, whilst a successful tactic in some cases is often counter-productive and ineffective.

Remote Warfare, by Dr Jon Moran of the University of Leicester (Department of Politics and International Relations), finds that unlike Israel, France and the US where remote warfare fits clearly into these countries’ overall security strategies, in the UK remote warfare is not part of a coherent strategy. Instead, confused thinking over security (caused by a global ambition for UK security, on the one hand, combined with a shrinking military capacity and a series of recently unsuccessful military deployments, on the other) has led to remote warfare becoming a desirable tactic, enabling the UK to involve itself in conflicts that are ‘doable’ rather than ones that fit with an overall strategy. The report – which evaluates how remote warfare is carried out by the British in Sierra Leone (1990s), Afghanistan (2001-2002 and 2009), Libya (2011), and Mali (2012) – reveals a number of worrying consequences of remote warfare, including:

  • Blowback: Undermining regimes and destabilising countries leading to dangerous long-term solutions (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan)
  • Spreading or prolonging conflicts: This may be counter-productive and more harming to civilians to externally sustain a conflict that would otherwise see defeat for one side or exhaustion on both sides and a peace agreement (e.g. Libya, Syria)
  • Danger of a ‘forever war’ scenario whereby warfare is pursued on an ongoing basis with no end, involving the militarization of ‘everyday spaces’ (e.g. war on terror)

The report finds that remote warfare is employed as a tactic rather than as a strategy by the UK, with a focus on short-term goals rather than any long-term thinking and concludes that it will only have the chance of being effective when part of a coherent defence policy and even then carries serious risks.

Dr Jon Moran, author of the report says:

Remote Warfare may be a useful tool or set of tools for applying military force in the modern world but if used without strategic thinking it may end up being ineffective and even irresponsible.”

Caroline Donnellan, Manager of the Remote Control Project says:

This report highlights the benefits that are likely to accrue from having a carefully thought out long-term strategy that is aimed at finding solutions to the many difficult and protracted conflicts that persist. It shows how remote warfare when used as a tactic, rather than as part of long-term strategic thinking, can have far-reaching and unexpected consequences that may result in prolonging rather than finding solutions to wars.”



Esther Kersley
+44 (0)207 549 0298
07545 994 658

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.

Jon Moran is a Reader in Security at the University of Leicester (Department of Politics and International Relations). He is interested in intelligence and security tactics, strategy and accountability. Dr Moran has conducted field research with police and security agencies and civil society activists in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, South Africa and East Asia and recently returned from trips to North Korea and Transnistria. His latest book is From Northern Ireland to Afghanistan. British Military Intelligence, Operations and Human Rights (2013).

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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