The challenge posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons

There are several significant challenges that are posed to the campaign against L.A.W.’s. One of these is that right now, already in significant and growing numbers across several nations are military drones used for surveillance and destroying targets from a distance. These are generally referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (U.A.V.’s)and include various American models such as Global Hawk, Reaper, Predator, Grey Eagle and others.

However I am talking about a type of weapon that is likely to start appearing in the near future. I cannot quite envisage what one would look like, but I would assume it to be like a drone or – possibly later on – an upright robot, with lethal capability, that can function without human input. And these are not some imagined weapon system inspired by science fiction so much as an ethically questionable and soon to be taken next step from the development of U.A.V.’s as military weapon systems.

Drones have a controversial record in terms of military applications. Their soaring use in Somalia, Yemen and also around Pakistan and Afghanistan by the United States military has been raising questions for years. President’s George W. Bush, Barak Obama and now Donald Trump have all escalated their use in the absence of conventional air power for dealing with targets. Tragically a large number of strikes have ended disastrously with civilians targetted at funerals, weddings and on family holidays, and not surprisingly the Governments of the nations where these strikes have occurred have strongly remonstrated with the operators of the drones – almost exclusively the United States military.

New Zealand has an interest as a nation of peace in ensuring we have no part in the development of what I expect will be a weapons system that even on its best day will find itself a foul of international law. L.A.W.’s represent a move into a future type of warfare where man is not the actual combatant any longer and that his ability to make battle field specific decisions will be increasingly done by machines.

From 3,000 kilometres away at the moment, a controller in the U.S. Airforce or Army will be watching a target with a view to determining whether or not an assassination strike is feasible. They will be making a split second judgement on whether to permit the drone to fire a Hellfire rocket that a split second later explodes in a fireball as it crashes into a target that might be a car, a house or some sort of armoured vehicle. There might be children playing in the streets, or people at the market buying food. The drone controller can instruct the drone to pull back and way further instructions. For a terminator the difference might not be much, but it is potentially disastrous. From 3,000 kilometres away or more, a controller at a computer will be watching really high resolution imagery being fed to them by the camera on the device. They will be able to see everything including the potential target. It sees a potential suspect outside a house with contacts. They are doing something, and there are children kicking a football around. Too close, but how will they tell the L.A.W. to not fire its weapon?

L.A.W.’s are coming and they represent an extremely dangerous development in military drone technology. There is a closing window of time to build up a coalition of nations that refuse to have anything to do with them. The military industrial complex will not be happy and nor will some politicians both in domestic and international circles, but do we honestly really need to add L.A.W.’s to human-kinds already dreadfully diverse array of killing people?

I think not.

New Zealand changing post Mosque attack

It is probably fair to say that New Zealand will not be quite the same again. In the same way that the Canterbury/Christchurch/Kaikoura earthquakes have made New Zealand acutely more aware of its dynamic geological environs, the attack on the Mosques of 15 March have been a violent jolt to our society and how it handles extremism.

The aftershocks will continue to reverberate through the country for a while. Law changes that are currently in progress are just the start, with changes signalled for hate speech law and a Royal Commission of Inquiry has been established to examine issues related to what the intelligence community knew about the gunman.

Just as I saw many positives coming out during the earthquakes, such as how the community rallied to help each other, contribute to the Civil Defence operation, donate to Red Cross and so forth, there has been a great outpouring of support for the Muslim community. Within a few days several million dollars had been raised to assist with material and financial needs, since many of the people in the Mosque who were shot dead or injured are the main source of income in their family. We saw how quickly the Mosque reopened – as fast as the Police could conduct the scene examination, get the interiors cleaned up and the various trades people repair the damage from bullets and things falling over.

The fear after the Christchurch earthquakes was palpable. Fear of a further big one. Fear of not being able to make ends meet, of loved ones and friends finding themselves in a tight spot that they cannot get out of. It unleashed a wave of stress and psychological issues among those who were there – depression, anxiety, among others. The fear after the Mosque attacks is there too – despite the authorities being relatively confident there is nobody else involved. Fear that this might become the new norm. Fear of how to explain to youngsters when they get older what happened and why.

Just as followed the earthquakes, where hard conversations were had – and continue to be had – about the direction the recovery should take, conversations about healing and moving forward will be had with the individual religious communities.

Some of the lessons of the earthquakes have been learnt. Many councils around New Zealand are now moving to address issues with infrastructure, building codes and the readiness of the authorities. It is too early to tell what the lessons of the Mosque attacks were, much less whether or not they will be heeded. Months or years from now when the initial good will has worn off and those other than the immediately affected are trying to move their lives forward, will we remember that not all can do so as easily?

Nobody knew where or how New Zealand would go in the immediate wake of the Canterbury/Christchurch quakes. Even when the Kaikoura quake hit there were questions about Kaikoura’s future. Those questions will be getting asked around New Zealand about where and how we proceed after the Mosque attacks as well. Are we ready?


War on Terrorism or War for the sake of War?

Where were you when the World Trade Center was attacked by al-Qaida on 11 September 2001? It was in the early hours of 12 September 2001 in New Zealand. I was a first year geology student at University of Canterbury and under any other circumstances it was just going to be another day – lectures for geology in the morning and geography in the afternoon.

By the time that day was over it was profoundly obvious to myself and my fellow New Zealanders that the world around us had changed, possibly irretrievably, for the worse. The U.S. led “War on Terrorism” had begun. Nobody knew where it was going to lead or who would do what, but that day no one wanted to offend America by failing to rush to her aid. America was going to strike back at an invisible terrorist faction that 99% of the world had never heard of, allegedly in Afghanistan, but with suspected links to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Within days America made its first big mistake dividing the world into two groups by President George W. Bush saying “you’re either with us or against us”. Of course I am sure most of the world was probably quite horrified by the attacks, but as so many before and many have done since, Mr Bush grossly over simplified the world.

During the following 7 1/4 years up to President Barak Obama taking office, two hugely destructive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were commenced. The former was on the premise that the Taliban regime of harsh Islamism was harbouring Osama bin Laden, the head honcho of al-Qaida. Going into Afghanistan, a country no foreign intruder has ever quite conquered in 1,000 years, the Bush Administration quickly lost interest upon realizing that the war would not be quick – some will say because former President George W. “Dubya” Bush wanted to invade Iraq to finish off what his father, the late President George H.W. Bush started when he liberated Kuwait in 1991. Mr Bush gave the order after having his Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell concoct a monstrous set of lies about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and being prepared to use them. In both of these wars golden opportunities to end decades of conflict and give both countries a hand up, get their devastated economies working again and help them rebuild their social welfare, education and health systems recover, were lost.

17 years later though, and long after New Zealand and other countries should have honestly started asking America hard questions, it is glaringly obvious that something is dreadfully wrong about this “War on Terrorism”. Is it even that any more? America has spent trillions of dollars bombing, shelling, firing missiles and invading countries that it demonstrably knows little about, much less seems to care. It has also spent billions on contracts to American businesses to engage in their reconstruction instead of putting the local populace to work.

It has stoked tensions with Iran and North Korea. It has armed right wing allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere with weapons they did not need and have turned a blind eye as they commit increasingly grave atrocities against adjacent lands/countries. Successive Presidents have botched the Middle East, starting with President Jimmy Carter, but the current one and his two predecessors – despite President Obama doing a good nuclear deal with Iran – have strayed into dangerously grey areas of law with their use of drones.

Now that New Zealand has had its own terrorist attack, which came from the polar opposite end of the spectrum that the al-Qaida terrorist attack was spawned from, New Zealand needs to ask itself whether we should continue our participation in America’s murderous war. Are we even sure it is a “War on Terrorism”? I personally believe that stopped when Mr Obama took office on 20 January 2009. Mr Obama wanted to remove America from both wars, but wound up slowly drawing down the troops whilst keeping up an unrelenting barrage of drone strikes that probably killed more innocents than militants.

It is obvious to me that if the attack came from the other end of the spectrum, maybe it is because someone wants us to be more actively involved in a war that is morally and ethically wrong. Perhaps that terrorist attack on Christchurch was an effort to bring the violence being perpetrated against Muslims overseas to New Zealand.

If that is the case, the only thing is to immediately get out of America’s war. It was never ours anyway. It is time to get out of a war we have no place in and bring the boys and girls who so bravely serve our country, our land, our people home.

Assalamu Alaykum (Peace be on you). Arohanui (Much love).

No place for Jihadi’s in New Zealand

Recently it has emerged that a New Zealander who served with what most people recognize as Islamic State, wants to come home and says that despite his activities, he is still a New Zealander. But was this really Islamic State he fought and not something masquerading as one, whilst being something entirely different?

Islamic State is not a State and nor is it Islamic. It is Daesh. The term Daesh is an Arabic term normally uttered with disgust or contempt and it refers to those who try to impose views on others that any proper discourse would take to be bigotted. It takes the most outdated parts of the Qu’ran and turns them into law. Those laws and the principles on which they were founded are completely contrary to New Zealand, New Zealand law and New Zealanders expectations.

A person who leaves New Zealand to support such an organisation is thereby saying that they no longer want to respect the laws and customs of New Zealand. They are saying that they support a type of organisation that is expressly forbidden under New Zealand terrorism laws and that they see no problems with actions that pose a potential threat to our national security.

Such a person cannot have a place in New Zealand. Should such people be allowed to live in New Zealand they would have to be subject to surveillance that under any other circumstances I think New Zealanders would disagree with, and possibly even protest.

Thus I come to the conclusion that Mark John Taylor, a New Zealander who has gone to Syria and served Daesh has no place coming back to New Zealand. Mr Taylor has committed a criminal offence in burning his New Zealand passport, as well as encouraging people to wage jihad on A.N.Z.A.C. Day. His remorse is at best, questionable – was he really naive and just being silly or did Mr Taylor really know what he was doing? My thoughts are that it is probably the latter: he knew what he was doing and why.

How Mr Taylor comes back to New Zealand is unknown. He faces a number of legal and logistical hurdles, long before he gets to the New Zealand border (airport). The first is that there is no New Zealand diplomatic presence of any kind in Syria, which means that he would have to leave the country and go probably to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey to present at a New Zealand embassy or other diplomatic mission. Having made it that far – and assuming he was not held at the border of his country of choice – Mr Taylor will have no documentation on him since he destroyed his passport and whatever New Zealand mission he presents at will become aware of his past and might well conclude that it is not proper for them to issue him some kind of visa or other documentation allowing him to go home.

And then, even if he somehow makes it to Customs at a New Zealand airport or other border entry point, Mr Taylor will be of keen interest to the New Zealand Police and Customs. He will most probably be taken into custody whilst they establish who he is, his intentions and whether he poses a threat. He will have to answer before a court of law or other hearing as to what he was doing in Syria and be prepared for the probability of criminal charges relating to that.

So, whilst it looks like we are not going to strip him of his nationality, there probably cannot be a much harder legal road ahead if he tried. And as it is of his own making he should not expect sympathy.

N.A.T.O. wants more New Zealand help in Iraq

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has asked New Zealand for more assistance in Operation Inherent Resolve, which is its operation in Iraq. The New Zealand assistance consists of 143 military personnel who are based at Camp Taji and train Iraqi soldiers.

The answer should be a clear and unequivocal “no”.

The reasons why New Zealand should say no to a N.A.T.O. or other request for help in Iraq are numerous:

  1. The whole “War on Terrorism” is the result of an attack on the United States, that whilst totally unjustifiable by any reasonable measure, no one should be surprised was coming – you cannot go on interfering in Middle Eastern nations affairs with the primary agent of interference being ones military, and not expect some sort of violent reaction
  2. Some of the key players in the Middle East are funding terrorism themselves and yet we deal with them
  3. It has no relevance to New Zealand whatsoever – New Zealand should completely withdraw the N.Z. Defence Force from the Middle East and only support United Nations sanctioned operations
  4. We have more urgent problems closer to home with countries like Papua New Guinea being close to becoming a failed state where an intervention might become necessary

The only instances that the New Zealand Defence Force should be deployed for war in are:

  • If Australia is attacked
  • If New Zealand is attacked
  • If the United Nations requests New Zealand deploy military forces
  • An emergency threatening the national security of any one or more of our Pacific Island neighbours

The first two instances are self explanatory. An attack on Australia is an immediately dangerous attack on New Zealand because of the proximity of the two countries to each other, but also the very long, close and deep ties both countries have.

There may arise a time when New Zealand is requested to supply military forces. When this happens, the Prime Minister signs a warrant that permits the Defence Force to use lethal force. New Zealand’s last large scale deployment was to East Timor starting in 1999 following its decision to vote for independence and widespread violence by pro-Jakarta militias as a result.

This fourth scenario is the one with perhaps the most obvious shade of legal grey. An attack or hostile activities in the South Pacific, which is widely viewed as New Zealand’s “back yard”, would have little trouble overwhelming the very small military establishment’s in any one of these countries. In 2003, in an effort to stop the Solomon Islands from becoming a failed state with lawlessness and a potential haven for militants, Australia and New Zealand mounted the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, which wound up in 2017.

My estimate of N.A.T.O., along with its fellow Cold War alliances, is that its usefulness has expired. Its eastward expansion is something that has long antagonised Russia, which to its credit has not tried to establish a 21st Century version of the old Warsaw Pact. Whilst the geopolitical conditions of the Cold War are present in many ways, the U.S.S.R. whose containment N.A.T.O. was established to check no longer exists and many of the old Warsaw Pact countries have been admitted to N.A.T.O.