The final text of the Declaration on Security and Defence signed at the UK-France Summit last week has now been released and it reveals some details about future European drone projects. The whole document is worth reading to get an understanding of where UK-French military co-operation is heading, for example:
“Based on our experience of leadership in foreign policy and defence, the UK and France believe it is essential to take a comprehensive approach to safeguarding European and trans-Atlantic security. This means tackling instability where it arises, preventing conflict, building the capacity of local forces and encouraging long-term economic development as the most effective means to guarantee both the stability of our neighbourhood, the safety of our citizens and the security of our wider interests.” (Para 5)
In an obscure working document, the European Commission has announced it is working on plans to open European civil airspace to unmanned drones by 2016. This follows the signing by President Obama earlier this year of the FAA Appropriations bill which mandated that US airspace must be opened to drones by 2015.
The document summaries the conclusions of the year-long European Unmanned Air Systems Panel which began meeting in July 2011and recommends setting up a European RPAS [Remotely Piloted Air Systems] Steering Group (ERSG). The aim of the ERSG, writes Peter van Blyenburgh, President of UVS International, (the main European drone lobby group) on the UAVS Vision website is to “foster the development of civil RPAS by planning and coordinating all the activities necessary to achieve the safe and incremental integration of RPAS into European air traffic by 2016”.
Surprisingly – or not depending on your view of the inner workings of the EC – membership of the ERSG has already been decided and it has already met to begin its work before its existence was announced. The group is co-chaired by the EC’s Directorate-General Enterprise & Industry and Directorate-General Mobility & Transport. Other members include representatives of other EC directorates plus what it calls a whole range of “stakeholders”. These include industry bodies including UVS International, the main drone lobby group.
The ERSG has established three working groups and is planning to publish by December 2012 a “comprehensive roadmap” towards the integration of civil drones into European airspace by 2016.
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.
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 →