• Blog
  • June 19th, 2017

Armed drones may be prone to targeting errors


We learned on June 7th that Canada intends to acquire armed drones for “precision targeting”. Despite widespread concerns about their misuse both in situations of armed conflict and otherwise, the government has provided no real rationale for why Canada needs them nor any policy framework to guard against their abuse.

The use of armed drones to date has been characterized by a lack of transparency, particularly in relation to the number of civilian casualties and a commensurate lack of accountability for their misuse. For a comprehensive examination of the problem, see the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s drone warfare database.

Proponents of armed drones argue that they are better than the alternatives — manned aircraft and cruise missiles — but an American military analysis found that:

“Drone strikes in Afghanistan were… an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement [than manned aircraft].” (page 46)

In trying to understand why this could be so, an analysis published in the International Journal of Human Rights by Canadian law professor Craig Martin examines the unique characteristics of drone systems and the policies and practices surrounding their use. He concludes that both the “means” and “methods” of drone use may contribute to targeting errors.

“Paradoxically, the very features that are most likely to make the drone compliant with IHL [International Humanitarian Law] — its ability to linger undetected for protracted periods over potential targets, feeding intelligence back to an operations team that can make targeting decisions in a relatively stress-free environment — may facilitate targeting errors caused by misperception and misinterpretation of the data.”

Click here for a summary of the article and here for the full text in PDF format.

In light of these problems, the Rideau Institute and a range of other Canadian civil society organizations have called for:

“…. the establishment of an international control regime for armed unmanned aerial vehicles and other armed drones. Canada should actively pursue, preferably through the United Nations, the creation of a tight international regulatory regime for the restricted deployment and use of these weapons. This regime should build on current international law, be rooted in the principles of responsibility, transparency and accountability, and focus on protection of civilian populations and property.”

Prime Minister Trudeau says we’ll wait until we’ve acquired the drones and are ready to use them before we develop a policy on their use.

Surely, the innocent civilians that could be mistakenly targeted by Canada’s armed drones deserve far better.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Read More

Leave a Reply

There must be accountability for torture.

The U.S. Senate voted 54–45 on Thursday, 17 May 2018 to approve the nomination of Gina Haspel as the new CIA Director. After the 9/11 attacks, Gina Haspel worked as Chief of Staff in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section, the unit responsible for the coordination of the CIA’s infamous rendition, detention and “enhanced interrogation” program.  In […]

Read More
View the Blog »

Update: More fallout from Trump violation of Iran nuclear deal

As we highlighted in our previous blog post, Trump violates Iran Nuclear Deal, on May 8, 2018 President Donald Trump announced ...

President Trump violates Iran nuclear deal

  May 8, 2018. Former Disarmament Ambassadors condemn Trump’s unilateral breach of international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program Two former Canadian Disarmament Ambassadors, ...