In 2011 David Hookes explored the ethical and legal implications of the growing use of armed, unmanned planes in the ‘war against terrorism’.
The rapidly increasing use of aerial robot weapons in the so-called ‘war against terrorism’ is raising many ethical and legal questions. Drones, known in military-speak as ‘UAVs’ or ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ come in a range of sizes, from very small surveillance aircraft, which can be carried in a soldier’s rucksack and used to gather battlefield intelligence, to full-scale, armed versions that can carry a sizable payload of missiles and laser-guided bombs.
The use of the latter type of UAV in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere has aroused great concern, since it often entails considerable ‘collateral damage’ – in other words, the killing of innocent civilians in the vicinity of the targeted ‘terrorist’ leaders. The legality of their use in carrying out what are effectively extra-judicial executions, outside any recognisable battlefield, is also a raising serious concern.