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Drones – a new way of war

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are playing an ever greater role in modern warfare.

The USA and UK use Drones in Afghanistan, the USA (CIA) in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and Israel uses them in Gaza. In November 2012 the Ministry of Defence said it had carried out 349 drone strikes in Afghanistan since June 2008. Total US and UK Drone strikes in Afghanistan exceed 1,500.

Drones are operated remotely and there appears to be little attempt or interest on the part of those who use them to follow up on the results, to monitor casualties or deaths caused by drones. This violates the 4th Geneva Convention which places an obligation on members of official military forces involved in armed conflict to record details of those captured, wounded, or dead. Drones also terrorise communities, destroying homes and land.

Some drones loiter in an area after an attack and strike again when people come to help the injured or collect the dead, so called ‘rescue’ attacks. This is a violation of the principles of proportionality and distinction between military and civilian targets.

Drone strikes are carried out by both the US military and the CIA, an agency whose actions are covert, which sometimes seems to work outside national legal authority, and whose rules of engagement are less stringent than those of the military. Used in this way, drones act as both judge and executioner.

Since 2005 the UK has been involved in the development of its own UK-operated systems and since 2007 has spent £2 billion on drones. This includes investment in research and development by British universities and British companies such as BAE Systems and Rolls Royce. The UK currently buys drones from the US, Israel and Norway.

In theory Drones might possibly be used in a way that conforms to Just War teaching – such as in a war declared by legitimate authority, with discrimination between combatants and civilians. But that is not how they are currently being used.

Pax Christi believes that the use of Drones contravenes existing moral and legal codes that govern war and the conduct of war, and that their development needs to be challenged before they become enshrined as a ‘legitimate’ weapons system and play a deeper role in the tragedy of warfare.

MEDACT, in ‘Drones – the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war’ (October 2012) stated: The danger posed by armed UAVs cannot be separated from the asymmetric manner in which they are presently used. There is presently no international law relating to asymmetric war, one area where international law is lagging behind technological development…The armed forces of rich nations have an ever increasing global reach.

Stanford University’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, and New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic, ‘Living Under Drones’, September 2012, said of the US use of armed Drones in Pakistan: The campaign is ‘damaging and counterproductive’, and neither policy-makers nor the public can ‘continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm’ it causes.

Pax Christi in its 1995 international vision statement summed up their search for peace in the face of new ways of killing such as Drones: The peace we seek cannot come from weaponry, but from a commitment to justice and nonviolent actions which recognise the dignity of every human person and all creation. We reject models of security that rely on fear, the demonisation of others or on the strength of arms – conventional and nuclear.

(From an original text by David Murray.)

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