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Analysis of “Towards an Armed Drone Code of Ethics: Eight Model Principles of Responsible Use” Report

Introduction: This report presents an analysis of the policy brief titled “Towards an Armed Drone Code of Ethics: Eight Model Principles of Responsible Use.” The policy brief, authored by Christian Enemark, Professor of International Relations at the University of Southampton, stems from the research project “Emergent Ethics of Drone Violence: Toward a Comprehensive Governance Framework” (DRONETHICS). Supported by funding from the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 programme, the study aims to address the ethical concerns surrounding drone violence and proposes the development of an Armed Drone Code of Ethics. The report emphasises the need for ethical guidelines to mitigate risks and injustices associated with the use of armed drones.

Summary of the report: The policy brief highlights the global proliferation of armed drones by governments, serving diverse purposes, including military operations. It emphasises the ethical uncertainties surrounding responsible drone use beyond existing international laws. The report advocates for the establishment of an Armed Drone Code of Ethics as a governance resource to minimise potential harm and abuses.

Key Findings

Technological Advancements and Proliferation: The report acknowledges the swift technological advancements and widespread adoption of armed drones, with increasing numbers of governments acquiring them. It underscores the shift from counterterrorism to war-fighting applications and the potential weaponisation of small drones for policing purposes.

Ethical Concerns: The report identifies multiple ethical concerns associated with armed drones, including unjust resorting to violence, indiscriminate and disproportionate warfare methods, excessive use of force in domestic law enforcement, extrajudicial punishment, moral injury resulting from killing, and inadequate human control over weapon systems.

Legal and Ethical Concerns: While some international efforts have been made to address drone use, there remains a lack of clarity regarding responsible use. The report recognizes the distinction between legality and morality, emphasizing the need for governance beyond existing legal frameworks to address the ethical implications of armed drones.

Need for an Armed Drone Code of Ethics: The report underscores the urgency of establishing an Armed Drone Code of Ethics to effectively address these ethical concerns. Such a code would supplement existing laws and provide guidelines for responsible drone use.

Analysis: The report provides valuable insights into the ethical implications of armed drone use and emphasizes the necessity for an Armed Drone Code of Ethics. Considering the rapid proliferation of armed drones, the report highlights the importance of regulating their use to prevent potential misuse and harm.

The eight model principles presented in the report offer a comprehensive framework for responsible drone use. These principles address critical aspects such as the classification of drone use, human agency, operator discretion, urgent defense, transparency, combined arms, equal assessment, and graduated response. Each principle tackles specific ethical concerns and promotes responsible decision-making within military and law enforcement contexts.

Conclusion: The report effectively underscores the need for an Armed Drone Code of Ethics to govern the responsible use of armed drones. By addressing legal and ethical concerns, it lays a solid foundation for further discussions. The proposed principles serve as a valuable framework that can guide policymakers, military and law enforcement personnel, and drone operators in adopting responsible practices.

As the use of armed drones continues to expand, the implementation of an Armed Drone Code of Ethics becomes essential to ensure ethical and moral use of these technologies. The findings and recommendations outlined in the original report significantly contribute to advancing responsible drone use.

Dr. Iain Overton of AOAV said of the report “Armed drones represent a significant advancement in warfare technology, and their use raises critical ethical concerns that cannot be ignored. The proliferation of armed drones demands the urgent development and implementation of an effective code of ethics to guide their responsible use. It is imperative to establish clear principles that prioritise transparency, accountability, and adherence to international humanitarian law. By promoting meaningful human control, avoiding indiscriminate targeting, and ensuring proportional responses, an Armed Drone Code of Ethics can mitigate the risks of harm and abuse associated with the deployment of these powerful systems. Such a code would demonstrate a commitment to upholding human rights, minimising civilian casualties, and fostering a more ethical approach to armed drone operations.”