The lethal use of drones can’t carry on as a global free-for-all

News: With the advancement in drone technology and a lack of global norms, the second drone age has been marred with high-end violence using drones.

Hence, the regulatory oversight of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should be an international priority. Without it, the only certainty is that drone technology will continue to advance everywhere. There will be more civilian casualties, and no one will be held accountable.

Must Read: Threats posed by UAVs – Explained, pointwise
What is the second drone age?

Today the international drone market has a vast range of offerings, like

Tiny startups selling $1,000-to-$2,000 off-the-shelf technology that can be easily weaponized by terrorist groups like the Taliban

High-tech unmanned vehicles that can carry laser-guided munitions and Hellfire missiles.

The proliferation of drones in the international market and the way these drones are shaping up the global military programmes, with equally significant applications in civilian sector, is being termed as the second age of drones.

The first age of drones, was dominated by the U.S. since its first attack using a remotely piloted craft in 2001. Now, it’s an ungoverned space with billions of dollars to be made and thousands of lives at stake.

How has drones impacted the global military programmes?

102 countries now run active military drone programmes. It’s replaced thousands of troops on the ground with controllers behind computers located in bases far away from the air strikes they are launching.

What are the issues/concerns with the widespread usage of drones?

There’s an absence of any overarching regulatory regime to protect civilians and uphold humanitarian laws, and to examine the operational and tactical ramifications of this remote-control warfare.

For instance: A US drone strike in Kabul in August 2021 that targeted terrorists instead killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children. It was a failure of military intelligence. Hence, experts are calling for a better regulation and more public scrutiny of drone operations.

Drones are a gateway technology. They’ve opened the door to weaponized AI, algorithmic and robotic warfare, and loosened human control over the deployment of lethal force. Today’s armed drones, are tomorrow’s killer robots.

The Missile Technology Control Regime, an informal political pact among 35 members, seeks to limit the proliferation of and trade in missiles and missile technology, which covers attack drones. But there’s no enforcement mechanism. It’s not equipped to regulate armed and networked drones, which can take as many as 200 people to operate.

What are the implications?

Large-scale drone makers now negotiate sales directly with prospective buyers who have clear military and security uses in mind.

– Turkey sold weaponized drones to Ethiopia, where the government is suspected of using them against rebel forces in the Tigray region in a civil war that’s killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region saw Azerbaijan emerge as the winner, using Russian, Turkish, Israeli, and indigenous drones to overpower its neighbour’s less sophisticated military

It has allowed powers like the US to flout global norms (like the US drone strike that killed the commander of Iran’s elite Quds force, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq in January 2020). 

What is the way forward?

There’s a need for a Drone Technology Control Regime. Nations should establish a multilateral process to develop standards for the design, export and use of drones, as well as stricter controls on the transfer of military technologies. Sales agreements, should include civilian protection and adherence to international human rights.

Source: This post is based on the article “The lethal use of drones can’t carry on as a global free-for-all” published in Livemint on 3rd Jan 2022.

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