Defining Global Norms on Drone Policy
Memo 46: Atlantic Community members have come to a consensus that, due to current US drone policy, drones need to be regulated to prevent the emergence of a customary law. The latest Atlantic Memo "Defining Global Norms on Drone Policy" seeks reform on both domestic and international levels, resulting in increased transparency and restricted armed drone deployment.
Atlantic Community members agree that an overall ban on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) technology is not a realistic or beneficial solution, thus significant concerns that exist warrant specific policy reforms. UAVs are becoming more and more common and it is the simple fact that UAVs are here to stay (Nedzarek) that should be the basis on which global norms are formulated. A regulated drone policy could instead lead to greater citizens' respect for and understanding of the technology, which could in turn expose civilians and soldiers alike to less risk in combat zones.
UAVs have the potential to positively contribute to the civilian component of modern day life but it is the use of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) by non-transparent intelligence agencies that has disorientated the public as to their benefits (Schmid). The current use of drones by the US has raised issues regarding international law and morality. The proliferation of drone technology has lead experts to fear that some countries may use the current US policy of targeted killings as a means to justify attacks on rebellious minority groups within, or neighboring, their borders. Pre-emptive strikes may solve an immediate issue but in the long run they may compromise the integrity of the international system that the West has helped to create (Williams).The awareness of the importance of political legitimacy in the long run may help to encourage drone policy reform (Schmid). Atlantic Community members consider it in the transatlantic partners' long-term interest to implement these reforms in favour of adopting global norms on drone policy.
1. Set a clear policy framework for combat drones.
1.1 Establish clear restrictions for armed drone operations.
Because of inherent limitations of oversight, armed drones should be restricted to countries' respective militaries as opposed to intelligence agencies (Nedzarek). Their use outside of armed conflict zones should be halted unless international law is updated to include guidelines for fighting transnational terrorism (Ferslev).
1.2 Formulate precise rules of engagement for UCAV crews in combat.
One of the most common yet unfounded concerns of civil society is that UAVs will, in the future, be able to conduct operations beyond human control. While such a scenario is not yet possible, it should be ensured that UCAV weapon systems remain under all circumstances within the hands of a fully responsible human operator (Bartsch).
The interoperability of NATO countries could provide the perfect platform to introduce norms for the appropriate use or non-use of UCAVs through adapting operation plans, tactical regulations and training manuals (Bartsch). NATO could create an internal committee that has the authority to demand accountability from its members on the legality and ethics of its drone use (Ivanov).
2. Strengthen norms on a domestic level.
2.1 Increase parliamentary oversight.
The use of drones should allow for increased democratic oversight by parliamentary committees (Nedzarek). This would increase transparency and assure citizens of their respective countries that their rights and values were being shown greater respect. Catering for future developments, domestic legislation could easily introduce effective curbs on fully autonomous drone systems (Nedzarek). As the United States is the main user of drones, the US Congress, specifically the Select Committee on Intelligence, should advocate for a greater role in shaping UAV policy, with such a role involving an increased awareness of US UAV use, while also providing for the possibility of ensuring greater operational limitations. The US Congress should continue to engage with officials and non-governmental experts on the short- and long-term effects of the use of drones on US foreign policy.
2.2 Increase domestic debate on drones: Appeal to reason, not to emotion.
A responsible, balanced and sober discussion on the technical possibilities and ethics of remote warfare should be further stimulated. The European public needs to engage with that debate on drones instead of just criticizing US actions. A unified European position is necessary to augment the global UAV discourse and to force European governments to take a position on the use of UAVs (Sirseloudi & Ferslev).
2.3 Make a firm commitment to increase transparency.
The US and European administrations should, when possible, offer increased disclosure and information about drone strikes to the public. Sensitive information that authorities deem eligible for release could be placed under "Freedom of Information" frameworks, i.e. the delayed release of information of a sensitive nature to the public (Nedzarek), which would ensure responsibility and transparency, while ensuring strategic interests are protected (Schendzielorz). Transparent policy would allow the public insight into the level of careful planning and safeguards that are currently in place for US drone operations and would lead to confidence and trust in the future use of the technology.
3. Implementing norms on an international level.
3.1 Utilize existing mechanisms to negotiate norms.
Due to the integration of most Western forces into NATO, regulation of the use of UAVs for military use has to begin on an international level right away (Bartsch). As an organization that has emphasized it is a coalition of democracies that has respect for human rights and the rule of law, NATO could use its power as an organization that the United States respects to influence the US to adopt internationally agreed operational procedures for the use of drones (Laird).
Furthermore, the use of leverage in bargaining situations is an effective way of establishing international norms. Through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks, the EU can begin to leverage the US into adopting drone norms which respect the human rights framework set out in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (Ciocia).
3.2 Seeking concrete government statements.
Clear statements are needed from many governments, especially within the EU, to make it clear that current US policy is not supported by their allies and many other countries around the world. Without a clear position emerging, US practices might become standard procedure, and thus a customary law would be established (von Roeder). A clear policy formulated in Europe will act as a counterbalance to the use of drones by the US. A collective consensus within the EU will legitimize the use of drones by European states and will allow for state policy to feed into regional and continental policy, over time making way for a global norm to emerge (Williams).
3.3 Update international law and set up a new international watchdog.
The policy of targeted killings using drones has tested the limits of international law with contestations over interpretation. It is necessary therefore to see where more oversight and pressure for restraint could be applied, and if adjustments can be made to already existing frameworks to ensure the strengthening of international law.
An organization such as an international watchdog could be effective in creating debate and moving the process of establishing global norms forward (Dubow). Such an organization has the potential to increase public awareness of the use and purpose of UAVs in a variety of roles. The transparent nature of the watchdog, in conjunction with the increased transparency of national governments' drone usage, would convince the public of the greater good of UAV technology.
This Atlantic Memo is based on a comprehensive debate on atlantic-community.org during October, and includes ideas, among others, from the following members.
Golo M. Bartsch is a former German Air Force Officer, PhD candidate (political science) at Bielefeld University, and Associate of the Ecologic Institute, Berlin.
Lee Ciocia is an undergraduate at New York University studying International Relations and a member of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network.
Gregg Dubow is a graduate of the International Relations Masters program at the Free University Berlin and currently works at The University of Freiburg in Germany.
Nils Ferslev is a graduate of the Human Rights and Democratisation Masters program at the European Inter-University Center, in Venice, and a researcher at the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Military College.
Georgi Ivanov is a recent graduate from Carleton University, with a Master of Arts specialization in Political Science (Arctic geopolitics) and currently is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada.
Ciaran Laird is an editor at Atlantic Community.
Rafal Nedzarek is a recent graduate from the University of Liverpool. He holds a Master of Arts degree in International Relations and Security.
Konstantin Schendzielorz is an undergraduate at the University of Würzburg studying politics and sociology.
Johann Schmid is a Scientist and a Military Fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.
Matenia Sirseloudi is a researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and Principal Investigator of TERAS-INDEX (Terrorism and Radicalisation - Indicators for External Impact Factors).
Olaf von Roeder is an active member of the German Armed Forces. He holds a Dipl.-Ing. degree in Air- and Space Technology from the University of the Bundeswehr, Munich and a Master of Science degree in National Security Strategy from the National Defense University, Washington, D.C.
Ogi Williams is an International Studies Masters student at Monash South Africa and a Researcher at Link Advisory.
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