Debate heats up over Killer Robot technology

April 29, 2014

By Ann Rogers, co-author with John Hill of Unmanned: drone warfare and global security

Here is an example of what’s being developed right now. This robot is owned by Boston Dynamics, who’ve recently been taken over by Google.

Sci-fi writer William Gibson said, “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” While the idea of killer robots fighting wars or maintaining law and order sounds futuristic, the race to ban autonomous weapons systems before they are distributed to the world’s arsenals is about to get underway. The issue will be taken up later this year by at the Convention on Conventional Weapons, an arms control regime that guides the use of controversial technologies considered “excessively injurious” or having “indiscriminate effects.” Any slow-down on the development of “lethal autonomous robotic systems” (LARS) threatens an industry potentially worth billions – advocates are out in force suggesting that these technologies will make war safer and more ethical. Critics counter that these systems will profoundly alter the dynamics of global security and spur a new arms race, lower the threshold for using force, violate international humanitarian law and undermine the basic ethical precepts that govern how wars should be fought.

The concept of autonomy essentially describes the extent to which a machine is able to reason its way towards problem solving when confronted with uncertainty. In weapons systems, different levels of autonomy exist along a continuum. At one end, “humans in the loop” systems are systems that are controlled – albeit remotely – by someone somewhere. For example, the RAF’s Reaper drones that flew over Afghanistan were piloted from Waddington or from the US facility in Nevada, and it was RAF personnel that chose targets and decided when to fire on them. Further along the continuum are “humans on the loop” systems: in these systems, the machine identifies and selects the targets, but a human makes the decision whether to launch an attack. On the path towards fully autonomous systems, the Rubicon is crossed when the decision to use lethal force is delegated to the machine itself, without any human oversight or intervention. There is a clear military advantage is removing the human entirely from the loop: a human weighing life and death decisions takes time, whereas a machine will simply take action.

While experts suggest that we are still perhaps 20 to 30 years away from developing systems that can identify and kill targets independent of human control, some killer robots are already operating in the field. For example, South Korea has trialled a robot system to guard its border with North Korea. The Samsung SRG-A1 “sentry bot” is a robotic machine gun and grenade launcher system equipped with cameras as well as a microphone and speaker. It can identify and shoot a target from two miles away. How does it distinguish between friend and foe? That’s easy: “When you cross the line, you’re automatically an enemy,” Myung Ho Yoo, principal research engineer at Samsung’s Optics & Digital Imaging Division, explained in a 2007 interview with IEEE. Thus far the system has operated with a “human on the loop,” that is, a South Korean soldier sitting somewhere watching the live feed from the bot. It is the soldier that decides if something is a threat, but having a human make the call is not an operational requirement – it is a political one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Richard Seymour in the Guardian | Global military spending is now an integral part of capitalism

March 10, 2014

Seymour T02680Richard Seymour’s latest Guardian article was published on Friday, in which he argues that the idea of a ‘peace dividend’ is gone, and that high levels of military spending are an entrenched part of the global landscape.

We’ve reproduced an extract below. You can read the whole thing on the Guardian website, by clicking here. For more information on Richard’s new book, Against Austerity (hot off the press this month), go to the Pluto website, or click on the cover image.

Richard Seymour

China’s surge in military spending gains headlines, partly because of the ominous implications regarding its regional contest with Japan, but it’s the deeper structures of military spending in general that are far more compelling.

There are few surprises about the distribution of military spending: for all the current focus on China’s growing military outlays – and it is significant that they have embarked on a sequence of double-digit increases as a percentage of GDP – the United States still accounts for 40% of such expenditures. However, the distribution is not the only thing that matters; it’s the sheer scale of such investment – $1.756tn in 2012. The “peace dividend” from the end of the cold war has long since bitten the dust. Global military spending has returned to pre-1989 levels, undoubtedly a legacy of the war on terror and the returning salience of military competition in its context. In fact, by 2011 global military spending was higher than at any year since the end of the second world war. Read the rest of this entry »

When the arms industry calls the shots, Israel stands to benefit

September 10, 2013

David Cronin, author of Corporate Europe (Pluto, 2013) and Europe’s Alliance with Israel (Pluto, 2010) has written for Electronic Intifada this week about the interconnectedness of his books, and the arms trade’s influence in the politics of Israel (and vis-versa.)

It is a timely piece as London currently hosts DSEi, one of the world’s largest arms fairs, held biannually at the ExCeL exhibition Centre in London’s docklands. We’ve reproduced the article below – alternatively you can check it out on Electronic Intifada, here. For more information on how to resist the arms trade, and specifically the DSEi arms fair, go to


David Cronin

CRONIN T02682There was a time when Israeli diplomats returned my phone calls. There was even a time when some of them granted me interviews.

It was on one such occasion — more than a decade ago — that I listened to Harry Kney-Tal, an ambassador in Brussels for Ariel Sharon’s government, vent his frustration with the European left. Why, he wondered, could pictures of Yasser Arafat often be seen beside those of Che Guevara at political protests on this continent?

Leaving aside the fact that Arafat was a deeply flawed leader, it is not difficult to grasp why symbols of the Palestinian struggle were brandished by radical activists. Palestinians have been treated as pawns in a global power game that has been rigged to allow one nation — the United States — and the extreme version of capitalism it embodies to dominate over everyone and everything else.

I wish that I had delivered a sharp and witty response to Kney-Tal. But I was a lot more confused and reticent then than I am now. I was working for European Voice, a weekly newspaper read by top-level officials in Brussels. Part of my “responsibilities” involved writing articles for supplements financed by the arms industry. I hated being little more than a stenographer to the bloodthirsty and powerful and grew increasingly depressed. Eventually — after five years in the job — I quit.

Since then (2006), I have written two books, with the express intention of discomfiting the elite in Brussels and beyond.

My first one, Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation, demonstrated that the EU is complicit in crimes against humanity. My new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War examines how lobbyists hired by the super-rich are trying to transform the EU into a carbon copy of the US (by, among other things, destroying or severely weakening social and environmental protections).

Both books are connected. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-militarist newspaper ‘The Newham Adversary’ hits London borough in anticipation of DSEi arms fair this September

August 9, 2013

The anti-militarist newspaper, The Newham Adversary, was officially launched last Saturday, with distribution beginning in the borough of Newham in the run up to DSEi 2013.

DSEi, one of the world’s largest international arms fairs, has taken place in the ExCeL Centre for a number of years, in spite of local opposition and a unanimous vote of condemnation by Newham Council.

Newham AdversoryThe Adversary, produced by the Stop the Arms Fair coalition (STAF), is an important part of anti-arms trade campaigners’ outreach to local residents, providing information about the companies and governments expected to attend, the reality of how deals brokered at DSEi result in political repression, injury and death, and (most crucially) how to get involved in shutting DSEi down.

The Newham Recorder covered the launch of the publication, now in its second edition (the first issue coincided with DSEi 2011) earlier this week. The print run of 3,000 is expected to be handed out outside tube stations near the docklands, as well as being posted door-to-door in the coming weeks.

Pluto is happy to host the PDF edition of the paper on this blog. Simply click the banner below. For more information about how to get involved in shutting down DSEi, go to the Stop the Arms Fair website.

Adversary Banner

The Adventures of Melanie Pax – anti-militarist comic strip

November 2, 2012

Good afternoon, radicals and book-lovers…

Thought we’d give you something a little different today. Here at Pluto we’re not just passionate about books, but about all sorts of things. Lucky for us, those of us interested in politics and activism get to create lovely books during the day that we want to cosy up with at night. I just finished reading Donny Gluckstein’s A People’s History of the Second World War, which was ace. and I’ve now moved onto Nick Robins’ Corporation that Changed the World and Alice Rothchild’s Broken Promises, Broken Dreams. (Even better, I get to read them for free because I work here…)

But we also like to share free things with others too. I recently spent a couple of weeks toiling away on a comic strip for Stop the Arms Fair coalition – a campaigning group that is filled with amazing people doing wonders to try and shut down the arms trade and its biannual presence in London’s Excel Centre, (the DSEi arms fair.) We’ve now got hundreds of copies printed on nice recycled paper, thanks to the legends at Calverts Co-operative. But why not share it more widely, I thought? So here it is, a FREE comic strip that’s GUARANTEED to be the most ATTRACTIVE PROPAGANDA you’ve ever seen… and if you’re not immediately convinced of the merits of anti-militarism, why not check out Vijay Mehta’s book, The Economics of Killing as well…



National Gallery ends financial partnership with Italian arms company Finmeccanica

October 12, 2012

Disarm the Gallery: A lovely tale of campaigning success

Chris Browne

A couple of days ago I left for work early, cycling with my friend in the tepid autumn sunlight to Abney Park Cemetery in North London. Outside my work at Pluto I occasionally take photographs of things for campaigning organisations, and both my friend and I have been involved for the last year or so in ‘Disarm the Gallery’ – an offshoot of the larger Stop the Arms Fair Coalition (STAF).

We’d made a pit-stop at Abney Park on my usual cycle through Stoke Newington, with our panniers containing my camera and a few home-made zombie limbs – papier-mâchéd and painted green, their humorously skeletal fingers protruded out of our bags, inviting double-takes from bus drivers and pedestrians making their way along Church Street.

Walking through the cemetery, which is the overcrowded and overgrown resting place of nearly two-century’s worth of political and religious non-conformists, we pitched up at a number of particularly choice gravestones and plonked the zombie arms into the earth in a series of different poses. The idea was to take pictures of zombies rising up out of the ground, ready to join the ranks of the righteous, anti-militarist undead who were planning to swarm on the National Gallery at Halloween. The anti-militarist undead would be the giddily excited (because facepainted), but nonetheless pissed off activists from Disarm the Gallery. The pictures were intended as social media buzz-generators for what promised to be the latest in a series of creative, high profile actions against the Gallery because of its links to the arms trade.

A little context then. The campaign’s genesis was in September 2011, during last year’s DSEi arms fair, when arms dealers were invited to a special event inside the National Gallery, where wine and nibbles would be consumed in opulent surroundings, and perhaps deals might be discussed. They didn’t know we knew about it and so we had a lot of fun on the day. However, it later transpired that this was no one-off liaison between one of our most famous public institutions and the nefarious, venal world of gun-running.

Finmeccanica, Italy’s largest arms manufacturer, had at that point nurtured a 5-year old relationship with the Gallery, where it gave them an annual £30,000 in exchange for the use of the Gallery as a function space throughout the year. Disarm the Gallery’s intent was to embarrass and shame the Gallery publicly until this relationship became untenable. In March a number of us had dressed up in stereotypical French painter garb (think berets and paint-covered smocks) and spelled out the message ‘disarm the gallery’ across 18 identical easels. Some clever people even made a video of it.

On a later day of action, small groups of us broke off inside the Gallery and wrote similar messages on sketch pads in the larger rooms, then donned the same berets – by now an entrenched visual signifier of our group – and held up our messages until security kicked us out.

The zombie demo was going to be the biggest and best action by far. We’d heard that Finmeccanica were hosting an event in the Gallery on October 31st. Made ebullient by the fact that this most sinister of industries was turning up on Halloween, of all days, we had quickly waved away any lingering concerns about the doubtful connotations of invoking the ‘undead’, and shoe-horned the fun, if not-quite-relevant idea of a zombie protest onto the agenda. There would be choreographed ‘Thriller’ flashmobs, hoards of groaning, staggering protesters outside the gallery, and (we hoped) lots of media ready to lap up the highly visual escapades.

Our sojourn into Abney Park was, it turns out, time wasted. By the time we got home I’d whittled the number of potential images down to about 20 and was about to edit them when I heard the brilliant news.

Though they were still embargoing it at this point, the Alternative Nobel Prize winners, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) had got an email from the National Gallery telling them that their long-standing sponsorship arrangement with Finmeccanica had ended, over a year early. The next day the press-release went out, with the sad caveat that there would be no mass mobilisation of the undead on October 31st:

A Gallery spokesperson told CAAT that Finmeccanica had “exercised their right to terminate” the agreement, but refused to disclose what discussions had preceded this decision.

Italian weapon manufacturer Finmeccanica has been one of the National Gallery’s ‘corporate benefactors’ since 2006. The contract was due to run until 1 October 2013.

In the wake of this campaign victory (what a beautiful word that is…), Sarah Waldron, a member of Disarm the Gallery who works at CAAT, gave me the following quote:

This was such an inspiring campaign to be part of: it was a fantastic joint effort with so many different groups and individuals coming together with passion and creativity. We’re glad that this energy and commitment has paid off – with a result that we hope will form an important part of a wider challenge to the arms trade in society and will help other campaigns against unethical corporate sponsorship in the arts. This is only the start!

Shiv Malik also wrote a piece in the Guardian last night, highlighting the campaign’s success.

Leaving aside the disappointment of the cancelled demo, there are some serious reflections to be made. At a time when the government continues to slash and burn all that’s best in our society; when corporate and political unaccountability runs rampant; when what little hope we kindle of our own democratic power to right such monumental wrongs seems all but spent, a win like this can’t be overestimated.

The sums of money involved – £30,000 a year – may seem scant compared to the money Oil continues to pump into the arts, and positively minuscule when we step back and examine the scale of corporate/political incest, but it is a decisive moment in our history. It is a moment when another finger was prised away from the arms trade’s iron grip on its own public image. It is a moment that will reverberate along the corridors of power where men make decisions they would rather others didn’t scrutinise. Most of all it is proof that together we can say No to something, and if we persist that ‘something’ will stop.

We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves of course. This is a stepping stone, and a victory that will allow us to refuel our batteries and stave off burnout for another year. In 2013, DSEi, the world’s largest arms fair, is returning to the Excel Centre in London. Here the world’s most repressive regimes will come to strike deals with companies only too happy to sell them weapons. And it is here that we focus our attention once more. This is a much more formidable opponent, but there is surely a great deal more conviction and hope floating around today than there has been for some time.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) wins the 2012 Alternative Nobel Prize

September 27, 2012

Good news everyone! Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), one of Britain’s most tireless, essential and all-round loveliest organisations has won the 2012 Right Livelihood Award – perhaps better known now as the Alternative Nobel Prize – along with three other recipients.

The award comes attached to the very handsome sum of €150,000, a huge amount to a small campaigning organisation on a very modest budget. CAAT was recognised for its ‘innovative and effective campaigning against the arms trade’. This work has historically encompassed governmental lobbying; freedom of information requests; publishing detailed analytical reports of arms companies and the effects of their trade on conflict zones; and supporting a variety of campaigns, including Stop the Arms Fair Coalition – working to shut down the bi-annual DSEi arms fair in Newham’s Excel Centre – and Disarm the Gallery – putting pressure on the National Gallery to stop taking money from Italian arms dealer Finmeccanica.

They are hugely creative, wonderfully non-hierarchical, and completely necessary in our political culture – in which the military industrial complex has taken deep root.

This year’s group of four Laureates highlights the essential conditions for global peace and security: effective nonviolent resistance, a recognition that the arms industry is part of the problem, human and women’s rights, and the preservation of our precious ecological resources.

To find out more about the Alternative Nobel Prize, check out the Right Livelihood Award’s website. To learn more about CAAT and the work it does (perhaps you might feel moved to donate a few pence of your own…?) then click here.

Vijay Mehta’s ‘The Economics of Killing’ reviewed

September 20, 2012

Vijay Mehta’s latest book, The Economics of Killing: How the West Fuels War and Poverty in the Developing World (Pluto, 2012) has been reviewed this week in Spectrezine, a journal of the radical left that purports to ‘haunt Europe’.

The reviewer, Steve McGiffen, also editor of Spectrezine, writes favourably of Mehta’s book, that it offers ‘a theoretically original and empirically rich analysis which gives as much as we are perhaps entitled to ask from any writer in this often bewildering and always rapidly-moving situation’.

The review covers a number of published approaches to what McGiffen describes as ‘the current, ongoing and seemingly insoluble crisis.’ Broadly speaking, he considers there to be two schools of thought about the economic meltdown we presently find outselves in:

The first view is that it is an inevitable product of the capitalist system. This is what is suggested by a strict application of Marxist analysis, and it is also the conclusion one must draw from reading writers such as Fred Magdoff and Michael D. Yates in The ABCs of the economic crisis. The other, promoted by radical left parliamentary parties such as Greece’s Syriza or the Dutch Socialist Party, as well as numerous economists and commentators of the left and the more intelligent parts of the centre-left, is that the crisis was caused by an abdication of governmental responsibility in the face of the power of the financial sector, and is being prolonged by austerity policies.

McGiffen sees himself as tempted by both interpretations, even contradictorily so. He argues that Mehta’s contribution to the debate is both rich and somewhat different to the raft of accusations levied against the financial sector: Read the rest of this entry »

A Dictator’s Best Friend: Corruption, War and the West – Vijay Mehta in Ceasefire

September 14, 2012

Vijay Mehta, author of The Economics of Killing: How the West Fuels War and Poverty in the Developing World (Pluto, 2012), has written a piece in Ceasefire this week where he argues that recent evidence from the Middle East corroborates the analysis he lays out in his book – that Western governments continue to be the best friends of dictators with money to hide.

Mehta writes:

Back in February, we were supposed to let out a collective cheer when European governments said they had “frozen” the assets of Hosni Mubarak, the toppled dictator of Egypt. Switzerland, Britain and other European states said that they had heeded calls from Egypt’s new leadership to seize the wealth Mubarak had hidden in their cities, and to return this money to Egyptian taxpayers.

The British “discovered” assets worth £85 million that Mubarak had hidden in London. These were then “frozen”. But what happened next was depressingly predictable … By September, a BBC investigation had discovered that many of Mubarak’s assets had not been frozen by the British, and that Britain was refusing to hand over the assets they had seized. Assem al-Gohary, head of Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority, told the BBC that the UK “doesn’t want to make any effort at all to recover the money”. Having accepted Mubarak’s millions on a no-questions-asked basis, the British authorities were suddenly very sensitive to the legal status of the sums involved. Read the rest of this entry »

New books from Pluto Press

February 24, 2012

Paul Le Blanc and Kunal Chattopadhyay edit the latest addition to the Get Political series, Leon Trotsky: Writings in Exile. To mark the release of the book Pluto is launching a new campaign to promote the writings of past revolutionaries amongst today’s activists and radical scholars. Visit the new Get Political website for more details.

Leon Trotsky

Writings in Exile

Leon Trotsky, edited by Kunal Chattopadhyay and Paul Le Blanc

Introduces the writings of Leon Trotsky

“Leon Trotsky stands as a shining beacon amid the revolutionary events of our epoch. Out of the vast ideological arsenal he produced, Trotsky always considered that his most important works were those from his years in exile, which remain essential reading for those seeking to bring about fundamental change today. Kunal Chattopadhyay and Paul Le Blanc have done a great service in helping to make available, in a single volume, these texts to new generations of revolutionary activists.” – Esteban Volkow, Grandson of Leon Trotsky and President of the Board, Leon Trotsky House Museum, Coyoacan, Mexico

“This bracing book provides theoretical nourishment for our times, just as millions take to the streets worldwide demanding a just economic system. Leon Trotsky hit the world stage as President of the St. Petersburg Soviet in the 1905 Russian Revolution. … Trotsky continues to educate and inspire, his flame refuses to be extinguished.” – Suzi Weissman, Professor of Politics, Saint Mary’s College of California

£14.99 only £13.00 on the Pluto site

Vijay Mehta’s The Economics of Killing has picked up a huge array of endorsements from, amongst others, Tony Benn, Deepak Chopra, Bruce Kent, Caroline Lucas and Arun Gandhi. Vijay will be launching the book on the 8th March at the Hilton Hotel Euston in Central London. Visit Pluto Events for more details.

The Economics of Killing

How the West Fuels War and Poverty in the Developing World

Vijay Mehta

Shows how Western governments are trapping the developing world in a cycle of violence and poverty.

“We live in a rich world and yet increasingly people are getting caught in the poverty trap and facing real hardship and pain. Vijay Mehta’s excellent book sets out the problems and solutions, and challenges us all to create the spiritual and political will to implement policies which will bring about real change and give hope to humanity.” – Mairead Maguire, Irish peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“The Economics of Killing brilliantly links the deepening economic crisis facing the West with the dynamics of militarism that is wreaking havoc on the planet. Everyone who cares about the future must read this groundbreaking book.” – Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for the Palestinian Territories, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, USA

£14.99 only £13.00 on the Pluto site

In Pakistan: The US, Geopolitics and Grand Strategies, Julian Schofield and Usama Butt bring together a range of prominent analysts and commentators, including Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister, to look at Pakistan’s geo-political position within the global order. What makes the book unique is its analysis of Pakistan’s relationship not just with the USA but also with China, India, the Arab Gulf and the European Union.


The US, Geopolitics and Grand Strategies

Edited by Usama Butt and Julian Schofield

“This deeply-researched, well-thought-out and comprehensive book makes an important contribution to our understanding of Pakistani policy and the vexed subject of US-Pakistani relations.” – Professor Anatol Lieven, War Studies, King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

“Pakistan’s complex and increasingly stressful relationship with the US cannot be analysed in isolation from its other regional interests, including those relating to China and Iran, let alone India. This wide-ranging study by scholars from diverse backgrounds provides much-needed analysis of this wider context. It is a singularly valuable contribution to a field of study all too often dominated by a particular national orientation.” – Professor Paul Rogers, Peace Studies, Bradford University

£18.99 only £17.00 on the Pluto site

In Discordant Development: Global Capitalism and the Struggle for Connection in Bangladesh, Katy Gardner draws on her longstanding research to reveal the complex and contradictory ways that local people attempt to connect to, and are disconnected by, foreign capital. She takes as her main case study the building of a gas plant by a vast multinational close to four densely populated villages in rural Bangladesh.

Discordant Development

Global Capitalism and the Struggle for Connection in Bangladesh

Katy Gardner

Based on extensive field work, looks at the impact of a multinational mining company on four densely populated villages in rural Bangladesh.

“Katy Gardner treads a finely judged line, keeping both neoliberal developers and anti-globalisation activists at arm’s length in order to describe relations at a human scale, thereby doing for development what anthropology ought. She addresses a number of highly topical issues include the paradoxical developmental effects of extractive industries, Corporate Social Responsibility as a form of neoliberal governmentality (handled especially well), microfinance and corruption. This is an extremely rare opening up of the world of ordinary people affected by such schemes.” – David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

£21.99 only £19.50 on the Pluto site


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