Drone Strikes, Legal Reasoning and the Need for Transparency
For the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones‘ Inquiry into the UK’s use of armed drones and working with partners, Article 36 made a submission with our partners at the department of sociology at the University of Liverpool, Dr Michael Mair and Alex Holder, on “The Use of Armed Drones: Drone Strikes, Legal Reasoning and the Need for Transparency.”
This submission is based on collaborative research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s North West Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership, involving Mair and Holder at the University of Liverpool and Minor at Article 36. The aim of the joint project is to explore battlefield legal reasoning in the context of drone strikes and it follows up on earlier projects that analysed combat misidentifications in cases of friendly fire and civilian deaths.
In the submission we suggest there are two areas where the APPG might conclude much greater information is needed on the UK’s use of armed drones.
First, more information is needed on the role that legal considerations actually play in decisions around targeting in the context of drone strikes. Legal frameworks do not interpret themselves and it is important, therefore, to investigate how they are being interpreted as part of the work of conducting drone operations.
Second, in order to properly understand how legal frameworks are being interpreted during missions, much more information is needed on the operational context than is currently publicly available. In the case of the UK’s drone operations, there is a great deal that simply is not known.
Greater disclosure in both of the above areas – i.e., in relation to interpretations of legality in combat situations and the wider operational context such interpretations are undertaken within – would enhance accountability and transparency around those operations and begin to address concerns around the secrecy and erosion of democratic oversight that have been raised with respect to them.
Drone strikes should be subjected to thorough empirical examination and the UK needs to release comprehensive information about the actual workings of its armed drone operations for that to be possible. Greater knowledge of the practices, equipment and infrastructures associated with drone warfare would in turn help establish a better understanding of their legal status and whether greater restrictions on armed drone use are needed. At the moment, drone operations are poorly understood and that situation should change. The release of information relating to the two areas we focus on in this submission would contribute greatly to this and help to move the debate on.
Download this paper
With Dr Michael Mair and Alex Holder, University of Liverpool