Drones, Predators and Robotic warfare

In his book “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century” (ISBN 9781594201981, 2009) Peter Singer points out how (military) technology has changed almost every aspect of warfare and the perception of war. Drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have taken over military tasks in a video game-like way, war is dehumanized and only the victims are human.

In Chapter 20: Digitizing the Laws of War and Other Issues of (Un)Human Rights, Singer touches upon the legal aspects, the shortcomings of the Law of Armed Conflict, and International Humanitarian Law, referring to Hugo Grotius’ De Jure belli ac Pacis (1625) as the foundation of the “just war theory”. New battlefields, new weapons require new laws. New definitions for legal combatants, new guidelines for the designation of targets and authorization to kill are needed.

Many people have expressed their concern over this futuristic way of Predator warfare as practized by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Amongst others, Philip Ashton, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, presented a critical report on the secrecy of the US drone program and its legal basis, ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documentation establishing the legal basis for the drone strikes. Jane Mayer, Max Kantar published highly critical essays. Mary Ellen O’Connell University of Notre Dame Law Professor has called the drone program “unlawful killing”, violating international law.

In March this year Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser, defended the legality of killing with drones in the war against terrorism, stating that in this armed conflict the US has the authority under international law, to carry out such missile attacks, leaving unanswered where the government draws the line between legitimate targets and civilians.

It is time to take action, before this technique becomes available to more countries and parties . Control will be more difficult then.

*Catchphrase of the Borg in Star Trek: The best of Both worlds” episode of The Next Generation, series , 6 April 1990.

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