drone for general use

Elizabeth Way (UNA-UK) sent news that in December, Birmingham’s Gisela Stuart, a member of the Select Committee on Defence, opened a debate on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

gisela stuart mp 2011After noting that the only armed UAV used by the UK Armed Forces is the Reaper, used in Afghanistan, Ms Stuart quoted ‘The Library’: “[T]he growth in the use of armed UAVs, particularly by the United States, raises a number of moral, ethical and legal issues”.

She proceeded to examine these more closely making the following vitally important points:

  • Only three countries — the United Kingdom, the USA and Israel – use armed drones in military operations.
  • The UK is investing extensively in that area . . . so there will be even further development.
  •  The strange situation is that almost no one in this country under the age of 30 has a defined sense of who or what the enemy is.
  • It has been clear, particularly when reading newspaper reports on the use of drones in Afghanistan, that in many ways we have not taken the public with us.
  • In areas such as Pakistan, there is an argument that the fallout is greater than the benefits.
  • There is a debate to be had about moral equivalence, and whether it is morally superior to deal with threats remotely instead of in hand-to-hand battle.
  • A defence research paper on the ethics of targeted killing defines it as “a pre-mediated state sanctioned killing of a named individual beyond the territorial and jurisdictional control of that state, in an international or non-international armed conflict or hostilities against terrorist or non-state groups.”
  • In other words, we are not talking about assassination or illegal killing for purely political purposes, and that is what people find most difficult to get their head round.
  • Some people argue that military historians may view 19 January 2010 as being as significant as August 1945, when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, because technology suddenly allowed a move to something that was not sufficiently explained or spelled out in the ethical framework under which we operate. Two things happened: one was the killing in Dubai; the other, much more importantly, was in Pakistan where a US unmanned aerial vehicle killed six alleged militants in North Waziristan.
  • People are worried about remoteness, and it is worth remembering some experiments that were done in the 1960s in America, in the wake of the Adolf Eichmann trial, about the perils of obedience. Individuals were tested on how much pain they were willing to inflict on someone just because they were ordered to do so. In a military context, it is very important that we continue to keep that in mind.
  • Clearly we intend to keep the chain of command within a purely military concept, but some of our very close allies do not. Do we have difficulties working with other Governments whose chain of command is not purely military?

and, with chilling significance:

  • The United States and the CIA are prepared to use civilian intelligence as part of that chain of command. That causes its own legal and ethical problems, because there is an argument about whether the civilians in that chain relinquish their right not to be targeted under international humanitarian law.


The following debate was long, repetitive and to no good effect. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Dunne) wound up the debate:

I welcome the opportunity presented by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston to put on the record once again the Government’s clear view of the benefits of RPAS in minimising the risk to civilians, as well as to our own service personnel and other coalition forces  . . . I can only see their importance increasing, as part of our overall service capability.


The whole debate may be seen here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121211/halltext/121211h0001.htm  (11 Dec 2012 : Columns 27- 48WH)