There are certainly good uses of drones, be it filming sports events or early warning against wood fires. But the military use of drones cannot be justified. This is the moment to achieve a ban on them. Here are ten reasons why:
1. Drones facilitate war because they reduce the threshold to use violence: a nation’s soldiers seem to face less risk directing a drone than flying a fighter bomber, and drones are much cheaper than fighter jets.
2. The construction of drones has opened a new round in the arms race. This race will likely culminate in a majority of states and also many non-state armed actors having access to such drones; the richer ones will have built effective defense systems against them, and the tendency to automatize drones (Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems) may in the end lead to a war where tactics are directed by machines.
3. The arms race will eat up billions of Euros / Dollars that are so urgently needed to combat hunger, poverty, climate change and the pandemic.
4. Currently and in all likelihood also at the end of the arms race drones are weapons of asymmetric warfare, of wars of the dominant world powers against insurgents in poor countries who do not have much if any defense against the drones.
5. The availability of drones invites states to engage in acts of war which are forbidden by the international humanitarian law and by the Charter of the United Nations, the extrajudicial killing of civilians in any country of the world. The CIA-led use of drones in the context of the “war against terror” has cost the lives of thousands, including many casualties of civilians. The reports of massacres of weddings etc. that were mistaken as gatherings of terrorists are numerous. Users of drone warfare have not practiced sufficient effort to distinguish between combatants and civilians.
6. Drones violate the basic principle of human dignity. The traumatizing experience of being watched day and night by drones which may strike any moment is a haranguing experience which simply cannot be justified.
7. The argument that they are even more ethical than ‘normal’ weapons because they protect soldiers is faulty. Such an argument can only be made from a standpoint that does not value human life as such but that distinguishes between “ours” – which are to be protected and “theirs” – who may be killed without sanction. It is also faulty when looking at the reports on the traumatization of the soldiers who direct the drones with a “joystick”.
8. The use of military bases in the context of drone wars in third countries (like the air base Ramstein in Germany) makes these third countries potential targets of counter attacks.
9. The use of weapons deployed from a far distance make conflict resolution at the grassroots and Unarmed Civilian Protection on the ground much more difficult. Both require direct contact with those using weapons – when these are in a far-away military base, any such dialogue seeking to convince opponents to lay down their weapons or at least to respect and protect the lives of civilians becomes impossible.
10. Surveillance drones are also used more and more by police and other security forces to monitor and suppress protests. Nonviolent protest repressive regimes is made much more difficult if the protesters are being monitored 24/7.
Dr. Christine Schweitzer is Coordinator of the German peace organization “Federation for Social Defence”, researcher at the “Institute for Peace Work and Nonviolent Conflict Transformation” and editor of the magazine “Peace Forum”.