Europe’s silence on US drone targeted killings

The following is excerpted from a new briefing written by Nathalie Van Raemdonck of Istituto Affari Internazionali‘Vested Interest or Moral Indecisiveness? Explaining the EU’s Silence on the US Targeted Killing Policy in Pakistan’ explores the US policy of targeted killing and the EU’s (lack of) response. 

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When the United States and the European Union committed to cooperating more closely in the fight against terrorism in 2004, they took special care to emphasise that they would act in keeping with the rule of law and international law.  Accordingly, the EU has an obligation in this engagement to examine those practices – including drone strikes – that raise serious concerns as to their  compatibility with international law, and to ask the US for more information about the specifics of targeted killing.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have reminded the European Commission of this obligation with parliamentary questions, requesting the EU to ask the US for the legal basis of this tactic. On 16 January 2012, a written declaration was issued by a group of MEPs urging the EU to commit to ensuring that states publish their criteria for combat drone operations, and in the event of unlawful killing, measures be taken against the perpetrators.

However, neither the European Commission in the form of the High Representative (who is also the Commission’s Vice President) nor the Council have thus far released any statements on this subject. This is striking, as the Council has been quite vocal on the matter on other occasions, notably on the targeted killings carried out by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

When confronted with this discrepancy, EU officials vaguely reply that the European Council has been in an ongoing debate with the US about how to forge a durable framework to combat terrorism within the rule of law since 2004. Yet, no opinions are expressed on the legality of the practice, and no statements have been made by EU officials on future developments. Apparently questions are being asked on the lack of transparency of this tactic, but no publicly known results have so far been shown.

It is not only the EU institutions that have failed to make their voice heard on the issue of drone strikes. The member states have generally followed a similar pattern. Nonetheless, while very few words have been uttered by individual countries, the positions of at least some EU member states can be gauged by their actions.

Germany, for instance, has been refusing to provide the US with intelligence that would lead to the killing of suspected terrorists since a 2010 drone attack in Pakistan killed a German citizen, who was an Islamist but no militant. The Germans have since agreed to provide the Americans with information “for intelligence purposes only” that can be used exclusively to arrest suspects, since the German government does not want to be perceived by the public opinion as being co-responsible for US targeted killings.

On the opposite end to Germany, one can perhaps put the United Kingdom. Although six British nationals having been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, the British government has continued to provide the US military and the CIA with support and intelligence. The Foreign Office has said in the past that it was “looking into the reports” of the killings, but so far none of these deaths have been investigated by UK authorities.  The UK is itself using armed drones in Afghanistan. Just like the US, the UK releases little information about the way in which these drones are used. Read more