We need to have a proper international debate and make a collective decision about the rules of engagement of armed drones right now, or we are in danger of our world looking like a James Cameron Terminator Movie.
Armed drones are remote-controlled, pilotless, aerial vehicles that are able to hit targets of interest, including killing individuals. So far, only the UK, Israel and America are known to have deployed them, although the US leads the way by far.
The first strike by an armed drone took place in Pakistan in 2004, under then-president George W. Bush. Under Obama they have become America’s go-to tool of choice in both its conventional and shadow wars, being used by both the military and the CIA.
On first look, you cannot blame the Obama administration for being so enamoured with drones. They allow U.S. forces to attack targets without risking American lives and are relatively cheap. However, the Obama administration is being incredibly short-sighted.
It’s not just that drones do inevitably sometimes kill the wrong targets and can thus radicalise local populations and lead to more terrorism. Or that they are known to have security flaws, witnessed by the computer virus that recently hit the base in Nevada, where the US military remotely fly their drones.
It’s also, vitally, that where drone attacks stand in law is murky at best. Is it acceptable to assassinate people, including Americans? Who pulled the trigger? Under international conventions, civilians cannot engage in war, but CIA members are civilians. America seems to have unilaterally decided that it can send drones over borders to kill its enemies. Into countries it has not declared war on.
Unsurprisingly, the world is now involved in a new arms race. More than 40 nations are developing armed drones, including Russia, China and Iran.
What happens when everyone else starts using drones the way the US has done in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere? If America protests the US will be looking mighty hypocritical.
A science-fiction scenario is becoming real. Experts believe that unmanned aircraft will eventually take over most tasks currently undertaken by manned systems. That drones will one day be the size of insects and birds and that swarms may be used to overwhelm modern defence systems.
The international norm that is being created by America, is incredibly dangerous to America. Unless America, the leader of the free world, voluntarily submits to sorting out the international law on the use if armed drones right now, it is putting the free world in jeopardy.