The general public sees dragons largely as unpredictable, dangerous and untrustworthy. I call for a fundamental review of this perception and ask: what can dragons do for us?
While I would agree that our scaled neighbours have not done a great deal in improving relations, the same can be said about us humans. Clearly, portraying dragons as purely interested in lairs full of gold and kidnapped princesses does not do justice to the complexity of these fascinating creatures. Besides, such stereotypes largely originate from rather dubious historical accounts that bear little relevance for today’s world.
What today’s world should ponder is how we can better protect civilians in the face of natural disasters and complex emergencies. Being a practitioner and academic in the field of humanitarian assistance myself, I wonder why we have for so long ignored the potential benefits that dragons can bring to our line of work. Enabling humanitarians and peacekeepers to harness the abilities of dragons can make all the difference when time is short and lives are at stake.
Let us take a look at the areas of UN operation that would benefit from dragon support.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster what matters most is quick access to reliable information on the type and extent of the emergency and its effect on local populations. Without such data, humanitarians are bound to respond either too late, in the wrong places or with the wrong kind of support.
While satellite images provide the big picture, they often cannot substitute for information gained from affected people on the ground. However, reaching those people quickly and safely is a big challenge. When blocked roads deny access by car and difficult weather rules out approach by helicopter, dragons become the logical choice.
The same is true for rescue missions, as dragons’ highly developed senses would allow for swift detection of survivors even from miles away. Their unmatched manoeuvrability permits a speedy evacuation of disaster victims even under the most challenging circumstances.
But dragons can do much more than just supporting rapid disaster assessment and rescue missions. Their lifting capacity usually matches that of a heavy military transport helicopter making them a good supplement to any logistical operation.
In addition, dragons offer one crucial advantage to most aerial support devices: they are not associated with any military or police force. In countries where the military is not necessarily seen as a friend of the people, this can make all the difference in the way humanitarians are perceived and aid is accepted. This way, dragons help maintaining the so crucial humanitarian principle of ‘independence’ and greatly extend the reach of humanitarian response.
Dragons may furthermore play a central role in UN peacekeeping operations; in particular when the protection of civilians is a key objective of the mission. While the analysis of historic and recent failures points at a multitude of causes, often beyond the control of individual peacekeepers and troop commanders, it remains a sad fact that peacekeeping forces are often seen as toothless tigers. This of course heavily impacts on their ability to act as a deterrent. Let’s face it - nowadays most belligerents can get away with firing at peacekeepers without facing any consequences. Shooting at a peacekeeper that is patrolling the skies on a dragon on the other hand, may backfire.
Lastly, I see great potential for the deployment of dragons in the area of fundraising and external relations.
With conflicts, climate change and natural disasters on the rise, costs are exploding and the UN depends on financial contributions more than ever. Unfortunately, the growing demand is not always met with adequate and timely support by member states. Frankly speaking, this lack of commitment is quite shameful. Dragons may help in bringing back some of the old glory of the United Nations and the respect it once enjoyed. I see the heads of UN agencies on the backs of their mighty dragons, spiralling over the European Commission building in Brussels and the Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Once they descend, there will be no more excuses for heads of states. After all, dragons can sniff the gold.