Un(wo)manned Aerial Vehicles: How UAVs Influence Masculinity In The Conflict Arena

CSP_Blog_16_01_KunashakaranAs a result of the introduction of drones (or UAVs), there have been numerous studies on the moral and ethical uses of an asymmetrical warfare, a war where one side is vastly superior to the other. However, not much research has been done into the intrinsic effects of these technologies.

How do they affect soldiers? How do they transform the role of gender in the society? Are they really the “silver bullet” that policymakers have been looking for: a machine that keeps troops far away from the ugliness of war? Or do they in fact bring the conflict zone closer than ever before?

Albert Camus once said that “there are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for”. With the technological advancements of drones and the continuous distancing of troops from the warzone, the question is not so much of what militaries would kill for, but rather how they could potentially suffer from the kill.

Talking about masculinity and militaries can get rather tense. And a full article on it seems to simply suck all the air out of the room. However, with the technological advancements that push soldiers further and further away from the battlezone, we need to give more thought to such abstract ideas.

The Evolution of Technology and The Role of Women

Today’s women are beginning to lead in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In institutions that are considered “manly”, women are beginning to play a leading role. And with the introduction of technology, neither mere brute strength nor physical prowess are deciding factors of what makes an ideal combatant.

When studying the changing dynamics of a conflict zone, gender is increasingly a key consideration.CSP_Blog_16_01_Kunashakaran_wecandoit

With the increasing use of UAVs, and similar distancing technologies that seek to protect troops, it is also time we talked about how women play a role with the technologies that dominate the conflict arena.

Back in the 20th century, World War II had a strong influence on women and the workforce. During this period, fields that were usually reserved for men suddenly saw a previously untapped demographic. An example are the very iconic “Rosie The Riveter” posters. This thrust helped to change the futur
e of the world, and of women in the workforce.

More recently, the US Army has begun to open up previously “men-only” positions to women. But do current deeply-entrenched norms and values in a rather male-dominated society give way that easily? Does the continuous chase for the ultimate killing machine transform traditional masculinity?

The Latent Psychological Effects of Combatant Technology

When writing my article on the influence of UAVs on gender dynamics, it made me think of how we approach the very tricky subject of humanity. Studying the various effects that arise with the increasing distancing of the warzone, I observed that sometimes hardest part is to reconcile the conflict going on “within”.

A stark finding were the significant levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that drone operators suffer from, even when far away from the warzone. This seems counter-intuitive to introducing a technology that “protects” combatants. It is precisely for this reasons that we need to further delve into these latent psychological effects.

PTSD seems to be caused by the incredibly complex juxtaposition of having to constantly switch between a combatant mind-set and then stepping out of the airbase to go home interacting with family or everyday society. This constant psychological switch takes a toll of previously unobserved magnitude on the individual.

Critical Policy Considerations for the Future

This is why, more so than soldiers on the ground, structural policies need to address a vast number of psychological, emotional and social factors. It also begs the question of when we are going to consider the aspect of human fallibility in the design of technologies?

Every day we hear more about robots and cyborgs taking over aspects of daily lives of humans. A rather (seemingly) un-gendered entity encroaches upon humanity and sufficient focus needs to be placed on policies that address this changing dimension. And in the fields of security and the military, advancements in technology keep the battlefield far away from home, with the ease of eliminating an individual resting on an operator’s fingertips.

With the future of warfare teetering on the edge of humanity, the increase of distancing technology in the conflict zone could potentially give individuals a more cavalier attitude towards conflict, resulting in ideas that violence is a need, rather than a last resort. After all, it is a clean war. And human lives are simply collateral damage.

A key consideration for policymakers should be to be a little more introspective, rather than to go out guns blazing and causing irreparable damage to humanity.

Sumita Kunashakaran is currently based in Singapore and is an Associate Consultant at Strategic Moves Pte Ltd and an External Consultant at Asia Aviation Services Pte Ltd. She is the author of “Un(wo)manned aerial vehicles: an assessment of how unmanned aerial vehicles influence masculinity in the conflict arena”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, 2016, pp.31-61 which she completed during her Masters in International Relations at The University of Edinburgh. Access here