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Free online course

From State Control to Remote Control: Warfare in the 21st Century

Explore the impact and ethics of using drones, special ops units and private security firms, with this free online course.


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, starting from when you join
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

From State Control to Remote Control: Warfare in the 21st Century

Why join the course?

States are increasingly using remote control methods, such as drones, private military companies and special operations units, to engage in activities that were traditionally performed by their conventional armed forces.

The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces; the drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen; and the engagement of Academi (formerly Blackwater and Xe Services) in Iraq are just a few examples.

Understand the philosophical, ethical and cultural impact

This free online course looks at the reasons for this trend, including technological innovation; security privatisation; risk aversion among politicians and the public; and the opportunity that remote methods provide to circumvent the law.

Over six weeks, we’ll examine the philosophical, ethical and cultural challenges raised by remote control warfare, drawing on cases in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, and discuss how states like the UK, US and China oversee these methods.

Join the debate on remote control warfare

We’ll ask how our traditional understanding of war and security is changing, and how states in the future will ensure our security through non-traditional means. We’ll also look at the responsibilities states have for their own populations, as well as the wider international society.

Crucially, we’ll examine how remote control warfare is seen by those at its receiving end. Join us, as we ask:

  • Does remote control warfare make states more prone to waging war?
  • Does this recent trend influence the way states’ security activities are policed?
  • Are drones an ignoble form of warfare, with a huge mismatch between the technological capabilities of each side?
  • Do private military companies allow states to undertake new, illegal and unethical activities?
  • Are special ops forces the optimum response to the public’s aversion to fear?
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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsWhat do the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, and the activities of firms like Blackwater in Iraq have in common? They are all examples of the growing global trend towards the use by states of drones, private military companies and special operations units to conduct tasks traditionally performed by conventional armed forces, a phenomena marking a shift from state control to remote control warfare. I am Dr Wali Aslam. And I'm Dr David Moon.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds On this exciting new MOOC from the University of Bath, we're going to be investigating how a mixture of technological development and increased privatisation of security and politicians' increasing sensitivity to risk have all combined to bring about a shift from state control to remote control warfare. Drawing upon examples from around the globe, participants will gain an understanding of the numerous questions that warfare raises or how the State carries out security duties and its capacity for oversight.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsAnd we ask, does the use of private military companies simply represent good use of state resources, or does it enable states to carry out illegal and sometimes unethical action in which they would otherwise not engage? These are only a few of the big questions that we will be seeking to shed light upon on this course.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds So join us as we grapple with the new and seek to identify the future on From State Control to Remote Control: Warfare in the 21st Century.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

Who is the course for?

This course will take an in-depth look at this subject, so you’ll need some pre-existing knowledge of the technical and theoretical issues covered.

Who will you learn with?

Wali Aslam

I am Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Bath, United Kingdom. I am interested in the fields of international security, Asian security and International Relations theory.

Who developed the course?

The University of Bath is one of the UK’s leading universities both in terms of research and our reputation for excellence in teaching, learning and graduate prospects.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.

£34.00 + shipping

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.