Two upcoming international conferences on the theme of border controls showcase the people, organisations and corporations building the state apparatuses of the future – but who is holding them to account?

Border Security 2010 is a commercial venture of the SMI Group on “land, air and maritime border security issues” that also has a counter-terrorism and public order focus. The event is sponsored by a host of defence and Homeland Security companies and takes place in Rome on 3-4 March 2010, following “sell out events in Istanbul in 2008, and Warsaw in 2009″.

Keynote speakers include Edgar Beugels (Head of Research and Development Unit, Frontex), Keith Best, (UK Immigration Advisory Service) and Thomas Tass (Executive Director, Borderpol). The conference also includes presentations on:

  • The EFFISEC project (an FP7 project on checkpoint security)
  • ‘Border Violence’ (brought to you by the European office of the Department of Homeland Security)
  • EADS National Security Programme for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • Uses for unmanned aerial systems [drones etc.] in Border Security Operations
  • Security Planning and Technological Application in International Major Events: The Italian G8 Summit Experience
  • NATO’s International Border Security Agenda
  • Biometric Technologies for Border Processing (from the EU-funded European Biometrics Forum)
  • Analysis of the Mumbai Terror Attacks
  • UK National Security & UK Maritime Security
  • See full programme (pdf)

For its 2011 event SMI plans “a special focus on the use of border management technologies” with “special insights into how different surveillance technologies are being used to aid decision making and improve security at all levels”. Heralding a new era of government by robot, ‘Border Security 2011′ will consider “how far the human factor is being replaced and what your role will be in the 21st century environment”.

This theme is taken up by the second event. Towards E-Borders: The impact of new technologies on border controls in the EU takes place at the Academy of European law in Trier on 22-23 April 2010. The seminar will “take stock of the use and the impact of new technologies on EU borders” and the “role of Frontex and Europol”. Speakers include:

  • Erik Berglund (Director of Capacity Building Division, Frontex Agency, Warsaw)
  • Roland Genson (Director, Police and Customs Cooperation, Schengen Directorate, General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, Brussels)
  • Julie Gillis and Ian Neill (Director and deputy, e-Borders Programme, UK)
  • Jean-Dominique Nollet, Head of Analysis, Serious Crime Department, Europol)
  • Frank Paul (Head of Unit, Large-scale IT-systems and Biometrics, Directorate-General Justice, Freedom and Security, European Commission)

You can't appeal to robots for mercy or empathy - or punish them afterwards

Two interesting articles examining the development and implementation of combat robots of various sorts were published this month. In “The age of the killer robot is no longer a sci-fi fantasy” (Independent), Johann Hari considers the growing army of 12,000 robots used by the USA in some 33,000 military operations per year and offers the following conclusion:

Imagine if the beaches at Dover and the skies over Westminster were filled with robots controlled from Torah Borah, or Beijing, and could shoot us at any time. Some would scuttle away – and many would be determined to kill “their” people in revenge. The Lebanese editor Rami Khouri says that when Lebanon was bombarded by largely unmanned Israeli drones in 2006, it only “enhanced the spirit of defiance” and made more people back Hezbollah.

Is this a rational way to harness our genius for science and spend tens of billions of pounds? The scientists who were essential to developing the nuclear bomb – including Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, and Andrei Sakharov – turned on their own creations in horror and begged for them to be outlawed. Some distinguished robotics scientists, like Illah Nourbakhsh, are getting in early, and saying the development of autonomous military robots should be outlawed now.

There are some technologies that are so abhorrent to human beings that we forbid them outright. We have banned war-lasers that permanently blind people along with poison gas. The conveyor belt dragging us ever closer to a world of robot wars can be stopped – if we choose to.

The second article, “Israeli Robots Remake Battlefield” by Charles Levinson (Wall Street Journal), can only dampen Hari’s optimism. Levinson argues that the growing Israeli army of “robotic fighting machines” offers a “window onto the potential future of warfare”, with “over 40 countries now said to have military-robotics programs”.

‘Highlights’ from the article, for want of a better term, include:

  • Among the recently deployed technologies that set Israel ahead of the curve is the Guardium unmanned ground vehicle, which now drives itself along the Gaza and Lebanese borders. The Guardium was deployed to patrol for infiltrators in the wake of the abduction of soldiers doing the same job in 2006. The Guardium, developed by G-nius Ltd., is essentially an armored off-road golf cart with a suite of optical sensors and surveillance gear. It was put into the field for the first time 10 months ago.
  • In the Gaza conflict in January 2009, Israel unveiled remote-controlled bulldozers.
  • Within the next year, Israeli engineers expect to deploy the voice-commanded, six-wheeled Rex robot, capable of carrying 550 pounds of gear alongside advancing infantry.
  • After bomb-laden fishing boats tried to take out an Israeli Navy frigate off the coast off Gaza in 2002, Rafael designed the Protector SV, an unmanned, heavily armed speedboat that today makes up a growing part of the Israeli naval fleet. The Singapore Navy has also purchased the boat and is using it in patrols in the Persian Gulf.
  • Unlike the U.S. and other militaries, where UAVs are flown by certified, costly-to-train fighter pilots, Israeli defense companies have recently built their UAVs to allow an average 18-year-old recruit with just a few months’ training to pilot them.
  • “The Israelis do it differently, not because they’re more clever than we are, but because they live in a tough neighborhood and need to respond fast to operational issues,” says Thomas Tate, a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who now oversees defence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.
  • in 2009 the U.S. Air Force trained more “pilots” for unmanned aircraft than for manned fighters and bombers for the first time.

From the BBC Press Office: A new two-part series for BBC Radio 4, presented by Stephen Sackur, considers a crucial, but often hidden, revolution in the way in which wars are fought. Ever-more autonomous robotic machines are becoming steadily more popular with the military and other agencies, often controlled far away from the battlefield. The pilotless drone aircraft, for example, has become key to current conflicts such as Afghanistan. Whether in the air or on the ground, such machines are seen as offering huge military advantages – with less exposure of soldiers to danger as well as being quicker, cheaper and more effective forms of defence and attack.

But the implications of this revolution are controversial. Are countries more likely to fight wars if their personnel are not put in danger? What happens if machines malfunction? How can autonomous machines be held accountable for their actions according to the laws of war?

Stephen questions military figures, including the most senior RAF figure responsible for strategy on pilotless aircraft, those who operate drones for the RAF, manufacturers of military robots and experts in the field. He explores what is already happening as military robotics expand – and what might happen in the future.

The first programme focuses on the huge impact of drones, used not only by the British and US in Afghanistan but also – highly controversially – by the CIA in attacks on targets in Pakistan. One former CIA employee reveals how the use of drones in so-called targeted assassinations has divided the organisation.

Episode 1 is on Monday 1 February 2010 at 20:00 on BBC Radio 4.

Presenter/Stephen Sackur, Producer/Chris Bowlby

During their campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Irish government, the European Commission and the EU Council went to great pains to stress that “the Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army” (see for example EU Council Conclusions of 29 June 2009).

The Lisbon Treaty does, however, provide for an EU military command, EU military operations and EU military procurement. Lisbon also integrates the nascent EU military apparatus into a new integrated foreign policy framework covering external and diplomatic relations as well as military and non-military EU crisis management operations.

According to Defence News, the European Defence Agency has just launched a joint investment program in “unmanned underwater systems” (robotic submarine vessels) worth about 60 million euros over the next three years. A ‘European Air Transport Fleet’ is also on the EU’s shopping list. Fourteen of the EU’s 27 defence ministers have signed a letter of intent to establish a European Air Transport Fleet “based on the A400M military transport plane and other aircraft such as the C130″. Initially the idea is to make existing aircraft available through the EU to those countries that do not own them themselves. In the longer-term, France and Germany would like to develop a 32- to 35-ton “future transport helicopter” for EU forces.

As the EU continues to take gradual steps toward outright militarisation, so the calls for the EU to use its military muscle grow louder and more frequent. The Royal Institute for International Affairs of Belgium, for instance, argues that now the EU has agreed on the ‘means’ of security and defence, it needs to start defining the ‘ends’.

“[The EU] won’t have an influence on a global level, nor will it be independent, be a reference for stability or a key factor for peace, unless [it] is able to secure its own defence by its own means in an autonomous and sufficient way”, is another familiar argument.

The European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) also argues that a “More Assertive Europe Is Needed” or it risks “irrelevance on the global stage”.  According to the ECFR, the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States has had its day and Washington is now looking instead to Brussels. Feeling confident enough to speak for the Obama administration, the report claims that “Washington is disappointed with Europe and sees EU member states as infantile: responsibility shirking and attention seeking.” What is needed, argue the authors of the ECFR report, is “a shift in European behavioral psychology… Europe needs to develop habits of discussing big strategic issues as Europeans in the European Union”.

See “Towards a post-American Europe: A power audit of EU-US relations” (dated 2 Nov. 2009) for the full ECFR report.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers