|ISSUE 62 AUTUMN 2010
|Welcome to Warmongering Wales-
Penyberth to Parc Aberporth
‘We have blown up the farmhouse. You won’t need to come here anymore.’
Thousands of mileas away in air conditioned comfort....
The new mercenaries
For the British crews who fly these drones and the 90 strong support staff, the most dangerous part of their day is the drive between the air-force base and their homes in the suburbs of Las Vegas. It’s a hard life on the front line.
There is no risk to any of my crews at all,’ notes Wing Commander Andy Jeffrey, the head of the RAF's 39 Squadron – the Reaper unit.
How it works: Suspicious types are spotted on the ground. Sqn Ldr Brown explains how it all works: ‘The crew went through the whole 'Kill Chain' process. That is 'find it, fix it, track it, target it and make the assessment'. The bomb had a successful effect. They [the Taliban] were exhibiting hostile intent and after the bomb dropped they stopped exhibiting hostile intent. They had all been killed.
They call this going kinetic "For that to happen, the mission must be legal, proportional and necessary – those are the tests and it can be a lengthy process. But if troops are in contact on the ground that process can be reduced to minutes."
It took no time from the launch of Montgolfier Brothers paper balloon in 1783 for thoughts to turn to military use. Eleven years later balloons contributed to the French victory over Austria by providing invaluable reconnaissance. At that time the French established a Compagnie d'Aérostiersand. Napoleon’s dream however to invade England in balloons came to nothing though it filled the English press with horror stories at the time. How times change
I write not about a peaceful Wales or even a Wales still embracing some pacifist traditions, but about a Wales now synonymous with war, a country marketed around the world by our own devolved government as at the forefront of developments in modern warfare.
In 1935, 75 years ago, the British government decided, despite widespread Welsh opposition, on an RAF bombing school at Penyberth, on the Lleyn peninsula. In September 1936, as building began, a fire was famously started by Lewis Valentine, Saunders Lewis and D J Williams. It has been the stuff of legend ever since, but does a spark remain to keep the flame of that action alight?
2010 also marks another anniversary. On 30 June 1940 400 inhabitants had to leave Epynt Mountain; the army moved in, and has stayed. We lost a community of 54 homes, a school, pub and church for the War Office to practise killing. Euros Lewis told how "Tomos Morgan, of Glandwr farm, regularly wends his way from his new house to the home where he was brought up, to keep it aired for when the war will be over and he can return to the mountain. He does not understand that day will never come – until he treads his usual path, comes round the turning, stops abruptly: where once stood Glandwr is a heap of stones. An army captain says, ‘We have blown up the farmhouse. You won’t need to come here anymore.’“
Chilling words, that make you want to scream against the injustice, but now important words to remember, to make us determined that we would not tolerate the same arrogance today. Times have changed, but war and Wales are more closely linked in 2010 than ever. Wales is being marketed as a country at the fore in the new field of warfare. The method of fighting in this new century has taken a frighteningly sinister turn, and, again, Epynt is part of the new developments, not the beautiful landscape this time, but the skies above. Seventy years after the Ministry of Defence stole Epynt, our own devolved government has decided that stealing land is not enough - the sky must be militarised, too.
The QinetiQ company (established 2003, when Chancellor Gordon Brown privatised MoD assets) won a £5m MoD contract to develop the Watchkeeper programme at Parc Aberporth. The US Carlyle Group, linked to the Pentagon, bought 33.8% of Qinetiq; when it went on the market their investment value increased from £42m to £374m; the £129,000 investment of Qinetiq’s first chairman, John Chisholm, turned into £26m. Qinetiq is now part of the Metrix consortium, which also includes the US arms company Raytheon and the Open University; they plan to train soldiers from all over the world at St Athan, Glamorgan.
After Qinetiq secured the contract, Wales’ then First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, said, “The MoD’s decision to site Watchkeeper test and evaluation in Wales reinforces the role of Parc Aberporth as a site of worldwide importance for unmanned system development”. He added that the development was part of a long-term strategy to make Parc Aberporth a centre of excellence for UAVs. “We look forward to working with such businesses and welcoming them to Wales.”
UAVs are also called drones or robots. ‘Robot‘ first appeared in 1921 in a play by the Czech pacifist, Karel Capek. He presented an artificial human being, a brilliant worker without ‘unnecessary’ qualities: emotions, creativity or capacity to feel pain; robots gradually take over the work of people, including military obligations. Capek asked what such a revolutionary invention would do to humanity.
These machines are already being used in thousands by the USA over Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. There is nobody on them; pilots fire bombs from the comfort of control stations in California. Thousands of people have been killed by these bombs, and Obama’s government has admitted that a large proportion were civilians, mothers and children. Another name for these robots is fire and forget missiles - firing, killing and forgetting; pilots return home after a day of destructive work, without having been near a bloody conflict. The US Defence Department has posted on YouTube clips showing UAVs killing people. An internet sensation under such titles as ‘Hellfire missile hitting a tank’, they have had ten million hits - ‘drone porn’, watching real people being really killed.
As war becomes easier for soldiers sitting thousands of miles from battlefield atrocities, the ‘enemy’ will be seen not as real people but dots on the screen. No more emotion will be needed to kill them than playing a computer game; the US Defence Department is recruiting war games enthusiasts for a new generation of soldiers whose conscience is less likely to prick them.
Use of UAVs by US and UK armed forces is increasingly common, doubling over the last year and likely to double again. A third of American bombing aircraft will by pilotless by the end of 2010. Foster-Miller, a division of Qinetiq and the company behind America’s armed robots in Iraq, has started to produce a new model gun-firing robot.
In June 2008, four years after Parc Aberporth opened, the Welsh Government confirmed substantial further investment. “Wales is pioneering the development of the unmanned systems industry in the UK through Parc Aberporth, the UK’s only dedicated UAV technology park.” Non-military uses for UAVs (eradicating malaria, combating climate change, helping agriculture and forestry) were mentioned, but Parc Aberporth “was developed by the Welsh Assembly Government as a Centre of Excellence for the demonstration, testing, evaluation and development of both civil and military UAV systems“.
Wales – a land specialising in weapons
Last year a new factory was opened by Rhodri Morgan in Llangennech, Carmarthenshire, to make equipment for tanks in Afghanistan by the UK tentacle of French arms giant Thales, in conjunction with ST Kinetics, producer of material for the Singapore armed forces. Tenants presently in Parc Aberporth are the major Italian company Selex Galileo (developing armaments across the world), and the ASTRAEA consortium, another colossal arms company.
The Watchkeeper is produced jointly by Thales and Elbit, a major Israeli arms company selling to many countries. The first Watchkeepers were built in Israel before production was transferred to U-TacS (in Leicester), 51 per cent owned by Elbit. Even as it admonished Israel over its attack on Gaza in January 2009, Britain finalised purchase of £850m of Israeli drone technology under the Watchkeeper programme. UK money not only supports the Israeli military economy, it develops new weapons.
While using robots on the battlefield reduces the number of soldiers sent to war, there is a moral question: should robots be programmed to decide the use of lethal force without human intervention? Who will take responsibility when autonomous arms systems are linked to activities that would be described as war crimes? The people who programmed the system, those responsible for testing it, the officer who gave the order, or the machine itself? None of these is satisfactory, yet the essence of a ‘just war’ is accountability for deaths.
In Autonomous Military Robotics: Risks, Ethics and Design, by researchers of the Ethics and Emerging Technologies Department at California Polytechnic State University, Patrick Lin discusses the moral issues needing consideration as seriously as technology, “so that robots are used for the good of humanity … To the extent that military robots can considerably reduce unethical conduct on the battlefield – greatly reducing human and political costs – there is a compelling reason to pursue their development as well as to study their capacity to act ethically“. Armed forces rarely recognise that soldiers commit atrocities, but a case for developing robots is that it would save people from soldiers!
The Banality of Evil – Unquestioning broadcasting
Even on the Welsh language news no one delved deeper; the story was reported as one of rejoicing. If the intention for troops in Afghanistan is to keep the peace, offer support and train their security forces, why unquestioning reporting about creating tanks that can kill more easily?
Morality is discussed by Edward Herman, in The Banality of Evil, a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt, reporting Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961, to describe the motivation of an ordinary citizen to assist in the Holocaust. Herman expands the concept in describing ‘normalising the unthinkable’ - doing terrible things systematically depends on their seeming normal. The media’s job is to normalise the unthinkable for us, the ignorant public. We were all meant to share the happiness of the Newbridge workers, listening to the Secretary of State congratulating them for taking on such good work – ignoring its purpose of killing more people more easily.
A generation after Capek’s ‘robot‘, George Orwell foresaw new developments in a frighteningly accurate way; 1984, with doublethink and newspeak, still reminds us of the need to monitor politicians and news services. Doublethink was deliberately ambiguous language: ‘war is peace’, ‘ignorance is strength‘. “The instruments of war have a role to play in preserving the peace”, said President Obama, accepting his Nobel Peace prize. The Watchkeeper is described as a “tool that will greatly improve target acquisition“; ‘acquisition’ does not mean a business deal - it is highlighting in order to kill with greater accuracy.
When Jill Evans MEP opposed the private development at St Athan giving foreign forces facility to train hundreds of soldiers in Wales, the then Vale of Glamorgan MP, John Smith, said that her views were “dangerous and irresponsible nonsense“. The report on BBC Wales’ website ended with the official statement that St Athan was a development “worth a combined £16billion and up to 5000 permanent jobs“.
On the Welsh Government’s website a page promotes the defence industry: “Grow your aerospace or defence business in Wales with an unrivalled package of skills, sites and support. We have highly trained people … and unique facilities for developing and testing technologies such as unmanned aircraft systems.” The Welsh Government has spent millions directly or indirectly on Parc Aberporth. Imagine the local benefit if the area’s small businesses had been boosted instead of enabling international companies to increase their profits in producing murderous engines.
In a time of huge cuts the Welsh Assembly provided £80,000 for the MoD to hold ‘family events’ in Caernarfon and Cardiff on ‘Armed Forces Day’ and every Welsh council raised the Union Flag. Politicians raising their voices against military plans are extremely rare; it is easy for a militant government in Westminster to ignore us again, as in 1935. It is easier when our government in Cardiff is militarising Wales and boasting about it. What chance is there of the thousands of travellers to Wales understanding a vital element of our heritage, the tradition of pacifism?
It is essential to raise awareness of what is happening. Is there the tiniest flicker left to keep the flame of that action at Penyberth alight? We must believe that we will again see that passion in Wales before it is too late.
Abridged from the Lewis Valentine Annual Memorial Lecture, delivered in Welsh, Llanelli, 13 July 2010