Since this year it has been legally approved in the Netherlands to make use of drones for agricultural purposes, e.g. for doing investigations on efficient fertilizing. In 2013 we have read that Amazon has considered drones to become very useful for the delivery of parcels. The football match between Serbia and Albania was suspended last autumn because of a stunt in which a drone was carrying a flag. The drone is a new (traffic) phenomenon in the civilian world, asking for rules. However, in the world of the military the drone has not yet undergone regulations worldwide either. Again, an aerial vehicle serving both communities raises various legal questions.

In 1912 the influential Austrian pacifist Bertha von Suttner authored an article in (the German-language) journal ‘Internationale Organisation’, called “Die  Barbarisierung der Luft” (The Barberization of the Air), in which she described how the initial appraisal of the free space of air as a prerequisite for universal peace was eventually reshaped in a new domain for warfare. Professor Hope Elizabeth May (Central Michigan University, philosopher of law and specialist in Peace Studies and Bertha von Suttner) is going to publish the booklet in English soon, within the framework of a workshop to be held in the Peace Palace in June 2015.

Up to the First World War no adequate conventions regulating air warfare were drafted; the Hague Conventions only dealt with bombardments resulting from Land and Naval Warfare. The Hague Rules of Air Warfare of 1923 were a first attempt to regulate. (Equally no good international legal framework was available for submarine warfare in the pre-war era.) After the first usage of drones in wartime and before the conclusion of an international regulation on drones a lot of brainstorming takes place.

In the Peace and Security Salon of the Peace Palace Library of 9 April 2015 various legal (and ethical) questions in the context of the deployment of armed drones and robots during wartime were discussed. Three specialists each discussed the use of drones from a different background. Professor Terry Gill, professor of military law at the University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Defence Academy discussed the legal perspective regarding the deployment of drones during warfare. During his talk he described and defined Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). He also discussed whether UAVs and AWS are compatible with existing law (legal bases and regimes) and described the main controversies regarding UAV strikes. Usage of drones must be based on international humanitarian law, at all times.The second speaker, Christine Boshuijzen-van Burken, a post-doctoral researcher and technology philosopher at Linneaus University Sweden and the Netherlands Defence Academy focused on the ethics of the technology of drones and how underlying information structures affect decision-making on the modern battlefield. According to Boshuijzen-van Burken there are three pitfalls which could be the cause of incorrect decision-making: lack of overview, misinterpretation of real-time images and data and complex communication structures.

Speaker Commodore prof. dr. Frans Osinga, Professor in War Studies, Head of the Military Operational Art and Science Section of the Netherlands Defence Academy spoke about arguments for and against the deployment of drones. Drones have helped to humanize warfare. From a humanitarian point of view drones have led to greater precision and precaution during an armed attack and thus have helped to mitigate detrimental effects of warfare such as civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. Commodore Osinga ended with a quote of the ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger, which  embodies this argument: “[drones] allow belligerents to carry out their attacks more precisely against military objectives and thus reduce civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects, in other words, to exercise greater precaution in attack”.

See also Peace Palace Library Blogs: Daniel Zwaagstra and Eveline van Trigt.

Jeroen Vervliet