The article on drone warfare by Simon Jenkins (Drones are fool’s gold: they prolong wars we can’t win, 11 January 2013) is perceptive about their counterproductive, illegal and unethical use. We in Scientists for Global Responsibility are especially concerned about this misuse of science and technology to promote and, as Jenkins remarks, prolong human conflicts.
It is of special concern that the UK has been investing considerable sums in developing its own drones through alliances between the MoD, the arms industry (especially BAE Systems) and British universities (eg under the FLAVIIR program). The most significant armed drones under development are called Taranis and Mantis and have specifications in advance of even the most heavily armed US drones. Mantis is powered by two Rolls-Royce turbo-prop engines and is capable of autonomous operation including combat with other aircraft. Taranis is designed with stealth technology and has two weapons bays.
It should also be noted by complicit scientists, engineers, civil servants, and the military that the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Professor Phillip Alston, says, in his 2010 report: “Outside the context of armed conflict the use of drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.” He adds: “The drone killing of anyone other than the intended victim (family members or others in the vicinity, for example) would be an arbitrary deprivation of life under human rights law and could result in state responsibility and individual criminal liability.”
Finally, as SGR has pointed out, drones are almost tailor-made for use against poverty-stricken people. It is difficult to see how they could be used effectively on the territory of a technologically advanced power since they can be shot down by missiles or conventional fighter aircraft. We question the ethical position of scientists and engineers providing rich countries with such weaponry for use in some of the most impoverished regions of the world.
Dr David Hookes
SGR national co-ordinating committee