Going by many names such as drones, surveillance robots, unmanned aerial vehicles, these little programmed machines seem to be the future of warfare. The one common denominator for all these devices is that they are aircraft without a human pilot aboard. The flight of these may be controlled either completely autonomously by on-board computers with decision-making software or by means of remote control operated by a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle, this also forms the main distinction between the types of drones. Although both sound fascinating, only the human controlled type is available for sales and operation in the EU so far, since the autonomous aircraft/drone is currently considered unsuitable for regulation due to legal and liability issues.
Drones or, more appropriately, UAVs can be used in different ways. First of all, you might have seen one flying in the distance at a big social event or used to take beautiful pictures and videos by a private television company. The UAV thus has a civil and commercial role. Another use of UAVs is for logistics, as there are UAVs being specifically designed for cargo and logistics operations. Already many companies, and most prominently Amazon are on this road and are intending to for example provide services to inaccessible areas this way. Other civilian uses of drones include surveying of crops, acrobatic aerial footage in filmmaking, forest fire detection or even search and rescue missions. All of these simple and often very useful applications of UAVs don’t come without criticism though. The public opinion has already expressed its concern about privacy, surveillance, data protection or even one’s right of personal space in cases where drones may “invade” the aerial space of one’s land without prior permission.
Next to the civil applications of UAVs, they can also be of particular interest for military purposes. In this field it has three main applications. First of all they can be used for target and decoy, where UAVs provides ground and aerial gunnery with a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile. Secondly they serve a function in reconnaissance, where UAVs can provide battlefield intelligence. Thirdly drones can be utilised for combat purposes, where they provide attack capability for high-risk missions. Military UAVs are manufactured to carry weapons and are well equipped to take out all kinds of strategic targets, regardless whether these might be human or not. Trained soldiers are standing right behind a control device and execute orders that are not always their choice. This means that these people do not physically attend the theatre of war, but send a machine in their place. Does this mean that they don’t suffer from war-related anxiety or trauma due to the fact that they are only wielding a joystick? Is the European Union ready for something like this be taken into service by its Member States?
The EU is in essence a peacekeeping project. It doesn’t have its own army or a single comprehensive external policy. When it comes to warfare, the EU cannot act as one. Its Member States handle the situation as they see fit and according to alliances they are already taking part in (e.g. NATO). Drones are currently ever-increasingly being taken in use in warfare, especially by the bigger military forces on the planet such as the United States, Israel, Russia and China. So, can the member states of EU use drones in warfare too? Here, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and especially the Common Security and Defence Policy appears. This policy aims to strengthen the EU’s external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities in conflict prevention and crisis management. The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) enables the Union to take a leading role in peace-keeping operations, conflict prevention and in the strengthening of international security. It is an integral part of the EU’s comprehensive approach towards crisis management, drawing on civilian and military assets. Since 2003 the EU has launched some 30 peace missions and operations contributing to stabilisation and security in Europe and beyond.
As mentioned earlier, the EU is a peacekeeping force on one hand. NATO, on the other hand, is an intergovernmental military organisation. This organisation constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. Many of EU’s Member States are also parties to NATO, which complicates things even more. When it comes to UAVs now, there are definitely some mixed signals being sent as NATO has already used them in its last operations and in June 2015 the first five NATO UAVs were produced. In other words, some Member States will be able to employ NATO’s UAVs, while others won’t.
Consequently, military UAVs are already used in different warfare cases. Especially the US are using them extensively in Iraq and Pakistan, where many civilians have been killed as a result thereof. One can ask if they are ‘legal’. This is of course the million dollar question. As for matters of international humanitarian law, UAVs are not specifically regulated nor mentioned in weapons treaties or other legal instruments. Also, as far as targeted killing is concerned, using UAVs seems to stand in sometimes stark contrast with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. In most countries UAVs are not regulated yet because rather general technological and political processes often impair the debate surrounding them. Who is to say that terrorists won’t be using them for their next attack or that the next global war will not happen with armed UAVs only? Technology is rapidly changing and so are its needs.
The use of UAVs in military operations has to be seen from different perspectives, such as ethics, interpretation of international law and a wide range of security and defence policies. Each state has its own domestic defence priorities and its own problems to solve. If you ask me if I feel safe knowing that someone at some point may be able to attack my place from the comfort of his own country, my answer would be negative. I am not saying that we are not living in a safe world, quite the opposite. Most developments in technology are there to make our lives easier, simpler and safer. Some of its products though, with UAVs not being an exception to that rule, do really scare me and many others. Even when utilised in the most harmless way possible, namely for civilian uses, it already poses several concerns of privacy.
This should however not mean that my or anyone else’s faith in a better world should be gone. The EU still has a lot of steps to take in order to improve our lives, and the issues surrounding UAVs are an integral part of this. This committee has to deal with a problem that concerns our lifestyle and security more than ever. Doing this it has the possibility to help build a framework for serious actions to be taken. I am certain that I am not the only person out there who is sometimes frightened by the prospects of technological development. In that perspective, the advent of drones takes us a step closer to the unknown. I’m not playing deaf to all those who support these kinds of technology. But let’s not forget what Albert Einstein once said, that “it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity”.
 The killing of certain individuals away from battle zones using military means, including missiles, bombs and commando raids.
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of collective or individual self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations” http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/