As NATO military operations come to an end in Afghanistan and the MoD faces a judicial review over its refusal to detail where UK drones will next be sent, Drone Wars UK is publishing a new briefing on the dangers of re-deploying UK armed drones.
The UK has used armed drones to undertake airstrikes since 2004, either in conjunction with the US or utilizing its own fleet of armed Reapers acquired in 2007. And increasingly it seems the UK is relying on its Reaper drones to undertake airstrikes, with Ministry of Defence figures showing the percentage of British airstrikes in Afghanistan undertaken by drones rising from 52% in 2009/10 to 82% in 2013/14.
Although the UK has committed to continue to operate its Reaper drones, due to air safety regulations they would simply not be allowed to fly in British airspace. So far the MoD have refused to reveal where their long-term home will be – locations in the Middle East or Africa are the most likely option – but it is difficult to be certain without further information. Given the situation in Iraq and Syria however it is now likely that that they could be deployed to a base in the region there – possibly to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus – to undertake military operations in Iraq.
Whether UK Reaper drones are to be moved from Afghanistan to take part in military operations in Iraq or to long-term bases in Africa or the Gulf, there are clear dangers to both UK and global peace and security. In brief, redeploying UK Reapers:
- Increases the risk of the UK becoming embroiled in on-going armed conflict
- Increases the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK or on British citizens abroad
- Diminishes international security by normalising the basing of armed drones overseas, sending a signal to other countries that it is acceptable to do so.
Rather than ‘jumping from the frying pan into the fire’ with its armed drones, the UK should instead pause the programme at the end of combat operations in Afghanistan to allow a thorough evaluation of the actual impact of these systems on the ground in Afghanistan. At the same time the UK, as one of only three users so far of armed drone technology, should investigate along with international partners and civil society the long-term implications of their use on both UK and global peace and security.