Military drones in Europe

Ensuring transparency and accountability
Research paper Updated 17 May 2021 Published 30 April 2021 ISBN: 978 1 78413 455 6
A Heron drone on the ground at Berlin Schönefeld Airport

Jessica Dorsey

Assistant Professor of International and European Law, Utrecht University

The use of armed drones, particularly to conduct targeted killings outside formal war zones, is highly contentious. In the contemporary context, where conflict has moved beyond the theatres of traditional warfare to take place in undefined battle zones, and is chiefly characterized by counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations, drone use has brought to the fore critical questions on civilian casualties, the rule of law, secrecy and lack of accountability, among others.

This paper has been developed as part of a project focusing on the policy implications for the UK and the EU of the use of armed drones. The analysis draws on discussions that took place at two research workshops and a simulation exercise held at Chatham House in 2019.

The authors argue that the troubling questions raised by armed drone use should not just be a concern for countries that may use them in permissive ways. The EU and the UK, with a shared interest in upholding democratic values, need to work together on developing guidance on best practice for improving transparency and accountability around the use of armed drones.