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International Relations, PUBLICATIONS

Use of drones: an international debate

The use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in war and counter-terrorism operations remains a controversial issue at international level. While the media focuses on armed drones used by the U.S. military for the targeted killings in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, other countries (including UK) have also deployed them. Legal experts and human rights organisations express concerns that drone strikes are illegal under international law.

The EP has initiated the discussion and urges the active promotion of transparency, accountability and the rule of law in relation to the use of drones. MEPs have called for an EP resolution on this topic in order to push forward the debate at the European level. Recent tests by the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) in Spain show the growing interest by the EU and its MS in the use of drones in both civil and military airspace.

This keysource guides to the main documents, analyses, views of stakeholders and statistical information on drones.


Welcome to the Future: Legal, Ethical, and Political Issues in the Use of Drones/ Bruno Oliveira Martins, IPRIS Viewpoints, n°118, March 2013, 4 p.
This article focuses on recent developments in the use of drones, and exposes some of the contentious issues surrounding the debate.

Drones/ Reaching Critical Will, fact sheet, 2013, 2p.


Flying drone

© Paul Fleet / Fotolia

Drones: Engaging in debate and accountability/ Quick Policy Insight, Ulrich Karock, DG EXPO Policy department, 25 April 2013, 4 p.

Human rights implications of the usage of drones and unmanned robots in warfare/ by Nils Melzer, EP study, presented at the hearing on human rights and new types of technological warfare 25 April 2013 (full text forthcoming).

Creating Accountability? Recent Developments in the US’s Policy on Drones/ Policy Briefing, DG EXPO Policy department, Wanda Troszczynska-Van Genderen, Jacopo Bellelli, March 2013, 9 p.

Obama’s Drone War/ Survival, 2013, v. 55, n. 2, p. 97-122
Legitimacy and accountability, perception of the United States and more.

The Obama Doctrine : How the president’s drone war is backfiring/ Rohde, David, Foreign Policy, March/April 2012
How the president’s drone war is backfiring.

Reforming the U.S. Drone Strike Policy/ Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report No. 65, January 2013
Author analyses the potentially serious consequences, both at home and abroad, of a lightly overseen drone program and makes recommendations for improving its governance.

The Global Swarm: Drones are not only spreading to other countries, they’re becoming smaller and smarter/ by P.W. Singer, Foreign Policy National Security, March 2013
Drones are not only spreading to other countries, they’re becoming smaller and smarter.

Hitting the Target? How New Capabilities are Shaping International Intervention/ RUSI, March 2013, 135 p.
In-depth analysis where authors contribute to the discussion on the use of drones (public opinion, media misrepresentations, legal and ethical issues, the issue of the lawfulness, legitimacy, the lack of data and more).

Legal, Political and Ethical Dimensions of Drone Warfare under International Law : A Preliminary Survey/ International criminal law review, 2012, v. 12, n. 4, p. 697-720 , 24 p. [click on IP authentication if requested]
This article delves into the advent of drone warfare and the international (criminal) law, political and ethical dimensions thereof.

Stakeholder views

European Parliament 

25 April 2013, Hearing on human rights and new types of technological warfare, DROI and SEDE, see video. With participation of Dr Nils Melzer, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and Ben Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.
6 March 2013, MEPs hosted a first-ever briefing on the drones.

United Nations

UN’s Special Rapporteur on drones Ben Emmerson investigates the attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. He is due to report in October 2013. Statement on Inquiry by Special Rapporteur, 24 January 2012.
In his view, the US programme of targeted killings is an unprecedented attempt at an “entire rethinking of international humanitarian law”.

The 2010 report and the 2012 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.
The Obama administration has been criticised for its increased use of drones.

NGO views

Human rights organisations have criticised drones: Joint Letter to President Obama on US Drone Strikes and Targeted Killings, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, [], 12 April 2013

Drone Wars UK : focus on the use of British drones

National views

U.S. Seeking Daylight on U.S. Drone Policy/ Council on Foreign Relations, March 2013
Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses, April 2013

UK : Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones): an introduction/ Commons Library Standard Note, 15 February 2013, 22 p.


Drones by country: who has all the UAVs?,, Datablog, August 2012

According to the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), the US carried out some 350 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2012, around 50 strikes in Yemen during 2001-2012 and around 20 in Somalia between 2007 and 2012.

The Year of the Drone, An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2013, The New America Foundation

Further readings

Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique:  Dossier d’actualité : The Rise of Drones

The Brookings Institution: publications on drones

ISN ETH Zurich: publications on UAVs

BOOK Under the drones : modern lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands / Bashir, Shahzad, 1968- , Crews, Robert D., 1970- , Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012, EP Library – Brussels, S 08.08 AF UND 12

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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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