Justifying the Use of Drones in U.N missions

by The Nommz on May 11, 2015 - 11:18pm




The U.N has been an institution tasked with combating threats that compromise the security of a region. In a world where certain threats are becoming ever more sophisticated and member states becoming less involved in the prospect of peacekeeping, the U.N faces daunting challenges to secure the future success for its missions. One such measure which the United Nations is considering, is to deploy more unmanned aerial vehicles or (U.A.V’s/ Drones). The move comes at a time of great technological advances in the military field, and where enemies have begun to use tactics, which defy the longstanding rules of warfare. In an era in which technology wins battles more than ever before, it has become vital for a military force to ensure that its troops are equipped with the latest tech to match the challenges of the modern battlefield. The fields of military ethics, political science, and Economics justify the use of drones in peacekeeping operations hosted by the U.N.


Since July 2013 The U.N’s involvement in the West African Country of Mali has raised questions about the effectiveness of the U.N’s military elements. According to Algeezera’s article “Mali asks UN to send more troops” Conflicts in the region have left 31 peacekeepers killed and 66 wounded, making the mission the most deadly in recent memory. Mali is the first U.N mission to have drones participate in the peacekeeping efforts, as such many people from different backgrounds have raised the ethical and moral questions commonly associated with the concept of allowing machines to participate in the process of making war. Such issues cannot be ignored, as Drones have a checkered history stemming from the conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With Drones being the source of images associated with death and destruction, it is difficult to imagine such technology being applied to peacekeeping missions. However the stigma behind Drones has prevented peacekeeping agencies such as the United Nations from adapting modern technologies to the roles which they seek to fulfill. In doing so the U.N’s military arm has become reliant on out of date technology and tactics that are unable to compete with most of the world’s newer assets. The U.N lacks access to technology which is both stable and mobile, and capable of dealing with modern world threats. The ending result is a military force which is unable to offer a proper system of security for its own personnel, and as such has left itself vulnerable to the changing conditions of the modern battlefield.


The gradual lack of interest to equip U.N peacekeepers with sufficient technological upgrades to better compete with their ever changing threats, has lead to soldiers serving in roles for humanitarian aid to fall behind in technological sophistication. Longstanding myths of the cost of constantly keeping a military force up to date, is one of many contributing factors to the decline of the U.N’s readiness to face new threats. According to the “Final report of the expert panel on technology and Innovation in U.N Peacekeeping”  These factors have created a U.N task force which has been so poorly equipped that , “that some of the countries with the world’s most capable military and police forces have been reluctant to participate in many of the more difficult and challenging peacekeeping operations.” (3). The arrival of Drones has drastically changed the face of warfare, providing modern armies with the ability to preform reconnaissance, deter violence, and properly map regions without putting personnel at risk. Furthermore the cost of deploying drones compared to traditional aircraft has made them a viable alternative, which under certain circumstances can even out preform traditional fixed wing and rotary vehicles. According to the panel of experts, peacekeeping missions can depend on “Technology Contributing Countries” or “TechCCs”(4) countries that donate their own technology to operations much like their troops and servicemen. The prospect of having nations donating technology to U.N missions holds the promise to satisfy the need for advanced technological tools, and maintain low costs for a military force which is struggling to maintain itself.  This method of gaining a technological edge will address the fears of major powers seeking to participate in U.N missions, with the nations feeling more comfortable sending troops and supplies because of the security that a technologically superior force brings to the field.


Another contributing factor to the impeding of the readiness of the U.N’s military wing, is the belief that advanced technology especially U.A.V’s have no place in roles involving peacekeeping. Previous operations involving such technology such as Iraq and Afghanistan, drones were used as purely aggressive assets that were extremely effective at causing mass casualties. These events have created a stigma around drones and technology of the like, associating them with deceitful and morally questionable actions.  This stigma is largely based on the belief that the unmanned aircraft is making the decision to kill on its own, however according to “Australian Army Journal for the profession of Arms” a scenario in which that occurred would be a breach in international law. The Journal states “ a UCAV cannot autonomously release a weapon without authorisation from a ground station operator. “(132) And that “Under the laws of armed conflict, there remains the requirement to assess proportionality, and within this there is an expectation that the human at the end of the delivery chain makes the last assessment by evaluating the situation using rational judgement”(132). It is clear that the U.N an organization charged with the protection of human rights and freedoms would abide to international law, however it is important to note that the vast majority of the U.N’s new drone fleet would not be equipped with weapons systems. According to the “Final report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in U.N Peacekeeping.” The purpose for the U.N drones will be to “incorporating them into relief operations, primarily for data collection and to inform and prioritize response.” (55). And according to STABILITY international journal for security and development in their research article “in the eyes of the beholder, U.N and the use of Drones to protect civilians” The U.N argues that their new drones can be used to help greatly in their missions by “improving access to vulnerable populations, providing better information on potential threats to civilians”(3) By limiting the role of their drone fleet to peacekeeping, the U.N promises to not contribute to the already well rooted stigma behind U.A.V’s and ensures to the world that their fleet is being used to further the progress of stabilizing the region of operation.


The criticism behind the U.N being a global police force has been more pronounced since the early 2000’s. The failures of large-scale operations in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia as well as the duration of operations in Mali, and Cyprus have made many question the real purpose of the U.N. The involvement of U.N forces in developing nations have contributed to the notion that the U.N is the arm of modern imperialism, and that in reality the only purpose of such organization is to satisfy the needs of western powers. The purchase of advanced hardware like drones makes these claims seem like reality, the belief that drones can be only be used as weapons of war has lead many to further question the motivations of the organization which was founded in the hopes of ensuring that all humans on this earth have their basic rights met. However to not pursue a more technology advanced United nations that is equipped with the most up to date tech to match a global shift in the way wars are approached, leaves the vital organization at risk of becoming nothing more than symbol for peace and not a force for it.  With the application of the academic disciplines of military ethics, political science, and economics one can plainly see that the use of drones is justified. Times have changed since the Suez crisis in 1956, where the U.N saw the creation of its first task force. A new era has begun, and one cannot expect peacekeeping to be carried out by soldiers and servicemen and woman, which are equipped with technology of times past. Such a goal as to preserve the peace demands the finest and most advanced equipment. Even despite the failures of some previous operations, there is a force in the world comprised of 193 nations united in the singular cause of preserving the sanctity of human life.


































       "The Australian Army Journal for the Profession of Arms. Volume I,    Number 1. January 2006. Paperback – 2006."


"Performance Peacekeeping: Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in U.N Peacekeeping." (n.d.): n. pag. Web.


"Mali Asks UN to Send More Troops." - Al Jazeera English. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.


"Stability: International Journal of Security and Development." In the Eye of the Beholder? UN and the Use of Drones to Protect Civilians. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2015.






I agree with you when you say that the current troops of the UN are under equipped technologically wise. However I do not believe that drones should be used as weapons but rather as a mean to gather information and save lives. I have recently watch a documentary where the role of drones could be used to save lives in the military. For example some drones could be equipped with heat sensing camera which could detect buried mines. The use of mines was banned in 122 countries in the 1990's, however it is still a threat that our troops are faced with today. Another useful application would be the detection of snipers which are hard to find and can leave troops injured.
I also do agree with the point that drones have been seen as an agent of death due to them being misused, by using drones or other flying vehicle for task helping civilians could improve public perception. With the use that the UN will do of drones I think that the perception of the UN might not be as affected as it has, the United States which has used drones for offensive purposes.

Documentary link:
Landmine treaty info: http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-guide/mines/

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