In recent years, Western states have increasingly resorted to remote warfare to govern ‘threats at a distance’ across the Middle East and Africa often outside conventional warzones. Remote warfare is a form of military interventionism characterised by a shift away from boots on the ground towards deploying light-footprint military operations.
It generally involves a combination of drone strikes and airstrikes from above, special operation forces, private contractors and military training teams on the ground. Although remote warfare is partly about distancing, it also involves close contact through M2M trainings, political alliance formations and collaboration, but also through material manifestations such as bases, compounds, airﬁelds, trucks, ships, supply depots, and bunkers.
While successful at times in terms of defeating enemy combatants, these operations also have led to new and shadowy forms of militarisation, high numbers of civilian casualties and undermined a democratic check on government. The state’s war machine is increasingly off the public’s radar. Remote technologies and forms of organisation allow Western military to largely physically withdraw from the battlefield. Returning body bags are increasingly a thing of the past, and so too is public outcry and scrutiny. And if civilian deaths from airstrikes do incidentally appear on our screens, a lack of political transparency on who is involved and why, and the repeated claim that interventions are ‘precise and clean’, blurs any public debate on responsibility, and accountability.