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Editorial: Urgent efforts needed for framework to prevent misuse of military drones

  • January 25, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 7:24 p.m.
  • English Press

The attacking side can carry out operations with a high level of accuracy without fear of suffering casualties. If they get carried away by such an advantage and misuse attacks using unmanned aerial vehicles, it will only increase the risk of conflict. Certain regulations are necessary.


The killing of a powerful Iranian commander by the U.S. military, an incident that has escalated the conflict between the United States and Iran, demonstrated the power of military drones once again. The drone located the convoy of the commander and others in Iraq, fired a missile and hit the target with great precision.


The capabilities of military drones bear no resemblance to those of small drones for leisure and commercial use. The United States is leading the drone development race apparently because it regards such vehicles as an “ace in the hole” in the fight against terrorist organizations and extremists.


The U.S. military’s state-of-the-art drones gather information from about 15,000 meters above, using their sensors to the full. They can stay in the air for about 30 hours. Propeller propulsion allows the vehicles to enter hostile territory without making a loud noise and fire missiles and bombs.


Pilots at bases on the U.S. mainland use video monitors to remotely control the drones without the physical and mental pressure they would experience in manned flights. Another feature is that it is easier to keep secret the details of the operations.


One concern is that because of the low cost of drone strikes, there seems to be no psychological deterrent to the use of force, so they are easily used.


Drone strikes can spare the attacking side from suffering casualties. As it is difficult to directly see such attacks, the sense of invading a foreign country could also be weakened.


The risk of soldiers becoming victims in attacks on hostile territory as well as accountability over the legitimacy of attacks have previously worked as a certain deterrent. Operations using military drones could overturn such notions. Countries that have such drones should clarify their operational standards.


China and Israel focus on exporting military drones. We cannot overlook the current state of drones proliferating in the Middle East and South Asia, including among politically unstable countries and armed groups.


In September last year, Saudi Arabian oil facilities were attacked by drones from a pro-Iranian armed group. Measures are urged to prevent such drones from falling into the hands of terrorist organizations and extremists.


To avert technology leaks, the United States has limited exports of military drones to countries such as Britain. A U.S.-led joint declaration, signed in 2016 by 53 countries, stressed that the international community should take steps toward “the responsible export and use” of military drones.


The principles of “compliance with international law,” “for the purpose of self-defense” and “not using against a state’s own people” are likely to be the minimum conditions for carrying out drone strikes. Efforts must be accelerated to establish a framework to restrict drone attacks and exports with the participation of as many countries as possible.

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