Extremely Stealthy and Incredibly Close: Drones, Control, and Responsibility
Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) Working Paper No. 2013:04
Posted: 7 Mar 2013 Last revised: 15 Aug 2016
Date Written: March 6, 2013
The political and academic debate on the use of armed drones has until now focused primarily on the legality and the moral permissibility of single attacks. This Working Paper aims at recasting our perception of drones as solitary planes to one of a comprehensive surveillance and weapon system with extensive capabilities for patrolling and controlling territories, and it argues that the critical concept of drone technology is not remoteness but proximity. In so doing, I argue, crucial, but overlooked, international legal implications of the use of drones for attack come into sight – implications that will only grow as the technology continues to mature.
The main argument is that drone technology is not only a game changer, it also triggers obligations. If we recast our perception of drones as solitary planes to one of a comprehensive technology with extensive surveillance and control capabilities, we encounter new and crucial legal implications of the use of drones in armed conflict. To make its argument, this article first places the surveillance and control capabilities of drone technology within the context of the European Convention of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has found that the Convention applies in a number of cases where a member state exercised control and authority over persons or territories outside Europe. The article argues that this may affect the legal basis for European states that employ drones for attacks. The second part of the article examines the implications of the surveillance capabilities of drone technology for the principle of precaution in international humanitarian law. In addition to identifying so far overlooked legal implications arising from the employment or availability of drone technology for attack in armed conflict, the article raises the more general question of how the laws concerning armed conflict should be applied in an era of total surveillance. In fact, drone technology moves us swiftly towards an era where the “fog of war” has become history, and where weapons may not be engaged without employing available drone technology for precautionary purposes.
Keywords: Drones, Laws of War, European Convention of Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Collateral Damage, Precaution in Attack
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