The UK Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is pleased to have a special day that offers a positive against a negative; that says we’re for something as well as against. That counter-poses the power of soft to the power of hard – in just the same spirit as, say, Wool Against Weapons, Wrap Up Trident or Pencils Not Kalashnikovs.

Fly Kites Not Drones day, 21 March, was devised by the group Voices for Creative Non-Violence, the UK element of which was set up c.2011 to work with peacemakers in Afghanistan. In conjunction with the organisation Child Victims of War, they came up with the Fly Kites, Not Drones idea to highlight the effects drone warfare has – particularly on children in conflict zones.

Unicef has described children as the main victims of war because, besides the disproportionate deaths and maiming they suffer, drone strikes affect the psychosocial well-being of children and their families as well as their economic situation and educational opportunities. The unannounced and often mixed use of drones for both surveillance and military operations has created a pervasive sense of fear in affected areas.

March 21 is the start of the Afghan New Year. When it was first chosen in 2014 to represent a day of solidarity with the Afghan people, 30 groups across the UK, from Hastings Against War to CND Cymru, participated along with European and American activists and groups in Kabul itself in making and flying kites. Yet many children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where kite-flying competitions used to be one of the few popular symbols of free creativity and playfulness, now hide themselves away. Too scared to join in the kite-running,  they scan the sky looking only for the constant, but always unpredictable, threat of drone strikes.

Meanwhile, in the UK  at the start of 2015, Victor Chavez was awarded the title of Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year Honours list. He is the CEO of Thales UK which makes the notorious UK-Israeli drone, Watchkeeper and sells weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other repressive Middle-East governments.

Drones are hated for being operated by ‘pilots’ who stay safe in bunkers thousands of miles from the real ‘action’  of ever more ‘asymmetrical’ warfare. But those operators are themselves reported to be getting increasingly vulnerable to post-traumatic stress and suicide, particularly from the guilt induced by often not being certain, for all the apparent ‘smartness’ of their weapons, who they have actually targeted in their missions. As a result,  arms manufacturers are now devising a new generation of drones that will dispense with human oversight altogether. Known with supreme irony as Self-Aware Systems, they will rely entirely on Artificial Intelligence to analyse data and then be completely self-guided  in flight.

Opponents calls these planned new drones Killer Robots. On 21 March there will still be some humans who have the wit and creative imagination to challenge the Killer Robots with the Kite Runners. Symbolically, at least.

Rosalind Brunt
Wilpf-Sheffield