Project: International Security Department

Dr Jack McDonaldLecturer, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

The debate over the use of drones is an opportunity for states to identify elements of military practice that their publics find uncomfortable or troubling, and to explain these areas of military operations in context. 

A Heron drone on the runway at the Castor military camp in Gao, Mali, on 19 May 2017. Members of the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) have been deployed to the region as part of the UN mission named MINUSMA. Photo: Markus Heine/NurPhoto/Getty Images.A Heron drone on the runway at the Castor military camp in Gao, Mali, on 19 May 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The debate over the use of drones is an opportunity for states to identify elements of military practice that their publics find uncomfortable or troubling, and to explain these areas of military operations in context.
  • Countries would benefit from working together to identify accountability gaps arising from fundamental elements of military cooperation, including the role of intelligence transfers in joint operations, and the distribution of responsibility for lethal actions in the context of coalition operations.
  • Transparency in investigation procedures, as well as devoting sufficient resources towards ensuring that mistakes are identified, will improve the perception of drone use among domestic audiences.
  • Identifying and communicating common standards and practices of mitigating complicity should be a priority for countries to ensure that they do not unwittingly become complicit in unlawful lethal operations.
  • Although operational safety may hinder the ability of states to be completely transparent, understanding among the general public could be improved through the communication of policies and procedures regarding non-lethal assistance to partner states conducting lethal operations, both inside and outside the context of an armed conflict.