No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘War Crimes

Well, this is depressing

No need for this level of complexity

Specifically the news that the race is on to build killer robot armies.

They won’t look anything like James Cameron’s famous images from his dystopian hell of The Terminator movies.

(By the way, watch only the first two of the series. After the 1991 sequel they’re totally derivative crap designed only to pull money from your wallet, a warning from friends that I had already guessed at as I avoided them.)

Blonde and here to kill you.

Still less is it going to look like the Cylons in Battlestar Gallactica (BSG) such as “Six”, more’s the pity.

No, as is often the way of reality vs fantasy they’ll look a lot more mundane, probably not too different to the sort of drones you can buy off-the shelf nowadays.

And that’s what really frightening about them. Unlike nuclear weapons it doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure or resources to build large numbers of these things.

Also, don’t imagine that an “AI killer robot” is going to have some sort of human-level intelligence, or need to.

That’s not what Artificial Intelligence is really about, despite decades of SF stories like BSG.

The “AI” in this case will amount to little more than the ability to do the following:

  • Recognise a human target, which could be just any human or perhaps using facial or body recognition (or your cellphone)
  • Control flight and/or other movements towards the target.
  • Trigger a lethal munition to kill the target. Lethal meaning something as small as a single bullet.

It should be noted that all these capabilities are here now.

The temptation to open Pandora’s Box is irresistible. In early March, the U.S. National Security Commission (NSC) on Artificial Intelligence completed its two-year inquiry, publishing its findings in a dense 750-page report. Its members unanimously concluded that the United States has a “moral imperative” to pursue the use of lethal autonomous weapons, a.k.a. “killer robots.” Otherwise, we risk bringing a rusty knife to a superhuman gunfight.

Citing the threat of China or Russia leading the global artificial intelligence (AI) arms race, the commission’s chairman, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, urged President Biden to reject a proposed international ban on AI-controlled weapons. Schmidt rightly suspects our major rivals won’t abide by such a treaty, warning U.S. leaders, “This is the tough reality we must face.”

If other superpowers are going to unleash demonic drone swarms on the world, the logic goes, the United States should be the first to open the gates of Hell.

Of course we already have things like the General Atomic Predator drones (“General Atomic”, how 1950’s is that?) and others which have been launching missiles at people for over a decade now. But they have humans in the decision loop and they’re still big and relatively expensive, although much cheaper than a human-piloted fighter bomber.

The attack drones currently on the market are plenty dangerous as is. A good example is the KARGU Loitering Munitions System, currently deployed by Turkish forces. This lightweight quadcopter “can be effectively used against static or moving targets through its … real-time image processing capabilities and machine learning algorithms.”

KARGU’s mode of attack is full-on kamikaze. It hovers high in the air as the operator searches for victims. When one is located, the drone dive-bombs its target and explodes. If the concussion doesn’t kill them, the shrapnel will. Just imagine what a thousand could do.

That last is the future. What we’re talking about here is a swarm of such machines and again – not like SF – these don’t need any centrally organised intelligence, human or AI, to operate. For twenty years now computer simulations have mimicked the swarming movements of schools of fish and flocks of birds with just three rules.

Once you get into such swarms we’re no longer talking about just picking off a few selected targets:

To raise awareness of this imminent threat, the Future of Life Institute produced the alarming, if poorly acted film Slaughterbots. The finale shows dissident college students having their brains blown out by bird-sized quadcopters.

In a 2018 study conducted for the US Air Force, drone specialist Zachary Kallenborn correctly argued that lethal drone swarms should be declared weapons of mass destruction.

Cheap weapons of mass destruction, too.

Even without that miserable conclusion from the USNSC I would have found it hard to believe that various nations could be held back from pursuing development of these things.

In the future how tempted would some future POTUS be by the idea that the entire North Korean nuclear team, military and scientists, could be taken out in one hit by such a swarm, leaving nobody to launch a nuclear counter-strike? Or imagine an Israeli leader looking at the Iranian nuclear group? And that’s in democratic nations. What brakes might there be on the likes of Xi Jinping, Putin and Erdogan?

Of course every weapon system has been countered sooner or later. In this case it may be that in future we’ll each be guarded by a small swarm of counter-drones, starting with the wealthy members of society like Eric Schmidt:

In 2019, PAX published a list of the global corporations most likely to develop lethal autonomous weapon systems. Among the U.S. companies ranked as “high risk” are Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle, as well as Intel, Palantir, Neurala, Corenova, and Heron Systems. It’s worth noting that the top members of the National Security Commission on AI—all of whom support using these murder machines—include chiefs from Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 15, 2021 at 8:13 am

Posted in General Politics, Science, Technology

Tagged with


I hesitate in writing this post in it full and certain knowledge that there will be some out there who will relish the opportunity to put their boot into the profession of arms. Nevertheless what is done is done and you do the military a disservice by not saying loudly and clearly that even in war there are norms to be observed and when they’re not … there needs to be a reckoning.

The revelation that, following a four year extensive investigation by Major General Justice Paul Brereton, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, ‘special forces’ soldiers were allegedly involved in the murder of thirty nine Afghanis, in some cases executing prisoners to “blood” junior soldiers before planting weapons on corpses, has rightly shocked the nation. That a small group within the elite Special Air Services Regiment and 2 Commando Regiment killed and brutalised Afghan civilians, in some cases slitting throats, gloating about their actions, keeping kill counts and photographing bodies with planted phones and weapons simply beggars belief. This is not what the profession of arms is all about.

War is shit and it brings out the best and worst of soldiers … in this case clearly the worst. One accepts and understands that special forces soldiers go in hard and certainly the asymmetric war situation that was/is Afghanistan created its own special challenges but that cannot in any way excuse what is alleged to have happened. What you might argue is that the pace of that war put incredible pressure on the ADF with some soldiers serving three/four tours in a high tempo environment to the point where they became desensitized and lost their moral compass.

The report identified 25 perpetrators some of whom are still serving in the ADF. The names of the 25 have been referred to the Office of the Special Investigator who will consider the laying of criminal charges. Justice must now take its course.

An incredibly sad time for the Australian military with General Angus Gardiner, the ADF Chief, promising to act on the report’s “shameful”, “deeply disturbing” and “appalling” findings about the conduct of Australian special forces.

Bad things happen in war and we in New Zealand shouldn’t think we are above criticism. There are some who think what took place on the night of 27 June 1942 at Minqar Qaim when 19, 28 (Maori) and 20 Battalions broke through the German lines in a fierce action, overrunning a medical station and bayoneting to death everyone of its 80 occupants including doctors and wounded, constituted a war crime. The Germans certainly did. They lectured the New Zealand prisoners they took on their “disgraceful behavior” stripping them of their personal possessions and making them stand in the hot Egyptian sun for several hours under threat of being shot.

War is shitty and bad things happen. But that’s not to excuse because there can be no excuses.

Written by The Veteran

December 4, 2020 at 10:12 am

Posted in Australia

Tagged with ,

War Crimes

I was struck by an argument that one of my fellow bloggers put up the other day in the comments section of a thread dealing with the latest fallout about the NZ SAS causing civilian deaths in Afghanistan. It seems worthy of wider discussion than just in comments. 

Every occupation force ever has had that problem if the locals decide to fight back, and it seems like most of them end up killing civilians, because to their troops there’s no difference. Unfortunately for the NZ Defence Force, as a result of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS taking a more-than-usually gung ho approach to this back in the 1940s, the world’s made it a crime for an occupying force not to recognise a difference between combatants and non-combatants, regardless of how difficult that is.

Actually that was recognised as a crime, or at least a great wrong, long before the 1940’s, especially as modern Western-style warfare developed, with the possibility of ever-greater civilian deaths as weapons technology advanced and battlefields enlarged. Similarly with the post-battle situation where the winner occupies the ground won.

In fact it was regarded as so much a crime, that people who refused to identify themselves as combatants and who tried to blend in with the civilian population after doing their attacks, were the ones held to be committing a war crime.

But since that tactic is the standard one of terrorist activity, “modern thought” probably needs to modernise more, otherwise it’s never going to be possible to fight back against such people who refuse to recognise that law because they know such refusal gives them their only way to win.

If you condemn the forces trying to fight back against these combatants and killing civilians in the process – which, given the deliberate lack of identification of civilian from combatant will be almost impossible to avoid – then you’re effectively abandoning the very laws that are supposed to protect civilians.

The Wehrmacht and SS were convicted, or at least prosecuted, not because they were “gung ho” about this, but because they quite deliberately made no effort to differentiate between combatants and civilians in situations where they easily could have, and also deliberately targeted civilians who had no way to defend themselves or call on others to defend them.

By contrast, Luftwaffe bomber pilots and Wehrmacht artillery officers – and for that matter the Wehrmacht infantry officers who ordered in their strikes, as well as U-boat commanders sinking merchant ships and not rescuing their crews – were never even considered for prosecution for war crimes, even though civilians died in their attacks and it was well understood in advance that they would die. 

The reason was not that their Allied counterparts had done the same, but that such acts were not held to be war crimes for the very sensible reason that it’s understood there is a difference between deliberately targeting civilians and killing civilians as you try to come to grips with an enemy trying to kill you. Even the civilians in cities being bombed had anti-aircraft and fighter defences that killed the attackers – something the Untermensch of Eastern Europe entirely lacked once the German front lines swept past them.

These guys are locals legitimately fighting guerrilla warfare against a foreign occupying force.

During the famous Warsaw Uprising in WWII, the Polish people who chose to fight, deliberately identified themselves as combatants as best they could, typically with red-white armbands matching the Polish flag. That truly was guerrilla warfare, which is a legally acknowledged aspect of war fighting. But even guerrillas try to distinguish themselves from civilians, which is one of several things that differentiates them from terrorists. 

Even though they were locals fighting for their homeland against actual Nazis – who they already knew had committed war crimes and knew would commit more – the Polish fighters were willing to abide by that minimal rule of warfare, even if it granted them little or nothing from their enemies.

That is decidely not what the Taliban in Afghanistan and others like them around the world are doing. They are committing a basic war crime every time they fight by pretending to be civilians and using civilians as cover. They do so deliberately. They don’t care. In fact they want civilians to be killed because that aids their cause – especially when they have Westerners unwilling to hold them responsible in any meaningful, practical way.

There is no way of preventing them from committing those war crimes other than to capture or kill them. These rules of war have no global court, no global police force to enforce them. In order to have a chance of working they rely upon reciprocity: if that is not permitted then the laws mean nothing.

Modern opinion rightly sees the solution to that difficulty as being to not put your troops in a position where they’re a foreign occupation force.

In practice it will mean that soldiers dumped into “peace-keeping” duties as a “foreign occupation force” in a future East Timor or Kosovo, not just an Iraq or Afghanistan, will be nothing more than objects for target practice, under ROE’s (Rules Of Engagement) that mean they’ll effectively be defenceless. In that case we should just refuse to be part of any future UN force as well – perhaps especially the UN, given their desire for highly restrictive ROE’s.

Basically this “modern” thinking effectively gives a thumbs up to waging war through the commission of war crimes – even as it proclaims opposition to war crimes. 

And that’s if we’re willing to treat these reactions and objections as having been made in good faith by the likes of Hager. I think their bottom-line is simply to make sure that New Zealand, if not the wider Western world, never again takes part in a foreign war.

Fair enough: I just wish they would be as honest and up-front about that as genuine pacifists are.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 23, 2019 at 2:21 am

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with ,


and all those who pontificate at length about civilian causalities from the comfort of the sidelines knowing nowt about the realities of insurgent conflict and combined force night operations and then go to bed to sleep between clean sheets after having quaffed a couple of chardonnays have my contempt.

Shit happens in war.   War is shitty.   Clive Hume won a well deserved VC for his actions on Crete in WW2.   But there is a dark side to the story.   In the counter attack on Galatas shots were fired at members of Hume’s platoon by a German who fed into a house.   Hume and another soldier set off in pursuit of him.   They went into the house but could see nothing … then they noticed a trapdoor in the floor open slightly.   They assumed the German was in the cellar.   The soldier pulled the trapdoor open and Hume threw two grenades down it.    It was full of women and children.   Many were killed and injured.   I repeat … shit happens in war.   War is shitty.    But is anyone going to argue with me that Hume did that deliberately?

The International Criminal Court reports that there have been over 1,600 civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused by military action but that there was no evidence to show that any of these were deliberate.    I’ll go with that.    In my experience soldiers are professional.   They know the rules and abide by them.   The notion that the casualties alleged by Hager and Stephenson were extra-judicial revenge killings by the SAS gone rogue is shock/horror journalism at its worst designed to sell books.

Written by The Veteran

April 6, 2017 at 12:43 am