The Game: Strait shooters
If oil is the lifeblood of the Middle East, the Strait of Hormuz is a tourniquet. It is a 3km stretch of water between Iran and the UAE through which most of the Middle East’s sea-transported oil travels every day.
This past week, Iran’s rather tetchy Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) made the Strait their ‘hood, launching a major naval exercise there. IRGC naval exercises in the Strait are nothing new, but they are normally held much later in the year, following a clear announcement beforehand.
As an unwritten rule of the game, other countries bring their navies to keep an eye on things.
So why hold a naval exercise now?
Firstly, by doing so, they’ve caught the US off-guard – it only has one warship inside the Gulf. Secondly, this week the US will start re-imposing sanctions on Iran, after pulling out of the Iran deal in May. A show of strength by Iran would send a message.
The IRGC navy – mainly small gunboats, heavily armed with missiles and mines – could easily blockade the Strait. This would cut off Middle East oil supply, severely damaging the global economy. Other Middle East countries – including Iran’s bitter enemy, Saudi Arabia – would most certainly retaliate.
Iran is playing a dangerous game.
The Player: Ethics of remote killer
Drones weaponised with bombs and missiles make for happy military leaders.
They keep personnel off the battlefield and out of harm’s way. When used for targeted strikes in remote areas, drones supposedly reduce the risk of civilian casualties; and because drone operators are physically detached from the target (as opposed to military forces operating on the ground), they’re less likely to be psychologically affected by the engagement.
This is why political support for the use of drones is a safe bet.
However, the use of weaponised drones is an ethical minefield.
Drone strikes are often secretive, with insufficient legal oversight. Because the operators – and their commanders – are physically detached from any operation, they are more likely to be emotionally disconnected from the consequences of their actions. Plus, drone strikes don’t necessarily strike military targets – it’s estimated that civilians account for 8-17% of all deaths from US drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
In areas targeted by drone strikes, civilians live with constant fear of the menace they see glinting in the skies above them.
Weaponised drones will become major players in future theatres of war, but don’t for a minute think they will stick to a script for ethical engagement.
The Move: Thumb guns
It’s fair to say that little President Donald Trump says or does is baffling anymore. What is though, is the seeming failure of Republican leaders to challenge him. There’s a possible reason for that: his thumbs are loaded guns.
Democratic politics has always been combative, with parliamentary chambers echoing to the salvoes of words. But it used to be restrained. The watchful eye of a responsible media ensured that. Any vicious barrage by a politician, captured in the news, could end a career.
The pugnacious UK Labour politician Dennis Healey famously described being criticised by the mild-mannered Tory minister Geoffrey Howe in the UK House of Commons in June 1978 as ‘Like being savaged by a dead sheep’. In those days, such words were considered deliciously brutal.
But in an era of social media where even psychopaths have unfettered access to unquestioning citizens, all gloves are off. A measured, clever turn of phrase, long considered a strength, now risks being a weakness.
Trump knows he’s not tied to any restraint expected of the democratic process. So, any person who challenges him is publicly executed on Twitter, then served to his baying supporters to be torn apart.
Little wonder Republic leaders are reluctant to challenge him.
[These articles originally appeared in Issue 11 of Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 6 August 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. Fox Bytes is published weekly to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]