Drones and the EU: a ‘solution’ looking for a problem

Guest post by Ben Hayes and Chris Jones.

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Today the Transnational Institute and Statewatch are jointly publishing a new report on the European Union and drones, entitled Eurodrones Inc.  Our report examines the considerable economic and political support given to the drone industry by the European Union, which has now reached a level at which we can speak of an emerging EU drone policy based on two interlinked principles. First, an urgent need to develop and use drones in Europe for a wide and as yet unlimited range of purposes. Second, the various barriers – chiefly regulatory and technical – to the introduction and routine use of drones in EU airspace must be overcome. Read more

Flawed questions undermine new UK drone poll data

questionnaireToday the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the University of Surrey’s Centre for International Intervention (cii) have published Hitting the Target? How New Capabilities are Shaping International Intervention.  The report examines the technological, ethical and legal issues of unmanned warfare; a detailed assessment of targeted killing as a strategy as well as issues of media and public perceptions of the use of armed drones.  I shall write more on this report after I have had the chance to read it properly. Read more

If you think like Paddy Ashdown on drones, then think again

PaddyAshdownPaddy Ashdown – or Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon – to give him his proper title, former Royal Marine, intelligence service officer and leader of the Liberal Democrats has an opinion piece in the Times entitled ‘If you’re opposed to drones, then  think again’ (paywall).

Ashdown rehashes what are probably the top three pro-drone arguments.  Firstly that drones are not indiscriminate like cluster munitions so can’t be objected to because they deliver ‘smart’ bombs; if we don’t use drones our citizens and soldiers will be killed; and finally there is nothing new about remote warfare, indeed he suggest “it goes back to the Roman trebuchet.” Read more

Will UN Drone Inquiry get to the heart of the matter?

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Ben Emmerson announces UN inquiry into use of drones

The UN inquiry into the use of armed drones for targeted killing, announced yesterday by London-based UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson,  is very much to be welcomed.

Undertaken at the direct request of several states, the inquiry is also in response to what Mr Emmerson called “the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAVs.” Read more

A challenge to drone apologists – where is your evidence?

Over the past few week there has been increasing attention to the issues raised by the growing use of armed unmanned drones. As protests at factories and bases have taken place, newspapers have begun to editorialize, politicians have formed committees to investigate and legal action is being undertaken.

Amidst these positive moves there are those of course who would dismiss concerns about drone strikes and remote warfare. Earlier this month Reuters published an Op-Ed piece in response to the Stanford  & NYU Law Schools report ‘Living Under Drones, which investigated US drone strikes in Pakistan. Read more

Drone strikes poll shows mass disapproval

A poll released this week by the US-based Pew Research Center examining international attitudes towards the US included a specific question about US drone strikes.   Asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?” the vast majority of respondents in twenty countries expressed clear  disapproval (see table below).

Only three of the twenty countries surveyed did not disapprove of the strikes by a clear majority: India, Britain and the US itself.  However there was hardly clear support in India where only 32% actually approved the strikes with almost half of respondents (47%) not answering the question, while the majority of those who expressed an opinion in the UK, also disapproved (47% disapprove vs. 44% approve).   As Gabriel Carlyle writes over at the Peace News Blog, its important for anti-drone campaigners in the UK “to bump Britain’s “disapproval” rates up to those of Germany, France, Spain and others”

An important aspect of this poll, which received bare mention in mainstream press coverage,  is the gender gap.  As the analysis by the Pew Center itself states:

There are [large] differences between men and women on this question throughout much of Europe, as well as in the U.S., Japan, and Brazil. In Germany, 54% of men support the strikes, compared with just 24% of women. Fully 57% of British men approve of using drones, but only 30% of women agree. Double-digit gender gaps are found in 10 nations, including a gap of 23 percentage points in the U.S.”

With regard to US support, as Micah Zenko has pointed out, US support for drone strikes seems to have fallen from 83% in February to 62% in April. I suspect that the growing opposition to civil drones flying in US airspace will ‘leak’ across and mean that US support for use of armed drones overseas may well continue to fall further.

For example, this week US Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill mandating that a warrant be sought from the courts before a drone is used for law enforcement purposes.  Almost at the same time a group of twenty-six Republican and Democratic congressmen have written to President Obama demanding that he explain the legal justification for so-called ‘signature strikes’ arguing that such drone strikes generate “powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment” which could lead to further attacks on the US and US civilians. 

US support for use of drones may drop even further when the US public realises that other, ‘non-approved’ nations can also use drones.  While it is not yet reached the news headlines, there continues to be persistent rumours that the Syrian regime are using a drone to target artillery strikes in Homs (see this BBC article for example). 

Ken McDonald, Chair of the human rights organisation Reprieve, wrote an interesting piece for the Times this week connecting the slaughter of innocents in Syria and Waziristan – all justified in the name of ‘security’ (pdf).  The minority who support targeted killing by drone strikes seem to do so in the mistaken belief that by ‘taking out the bad guys’ we can increase security for all.  The stark reality is just the opposite – and the sooner we win this argument, the sooner support for targeted killing and drone strikes will disappear altogether.