APPG on Drones Inquiry Update

During the 2017 Autumn Parliamentary term, the APPG has held three evidence sessions, bringing to a close the gathering of evidence for its Inquiry. These sessions addressed the UK’s shifting security and defence alliances, the emerging technology relevant to unmanned weapons systems and the international and domestic legal frameworks relevant to the use of armed drones.

In order for the Inquiry Panel to make evidence based recommendations to ensure an appropriate level of transparency and accountability for armed drone operations in Parliament, the Inquiry heard from a range of international experts and practitioners. Both closed and open evidence sessions were held during the Autumn term.

In mid-October, a closed session with a former UK National Security Advisor offered the opportunity for a discussion on how the UK’s relationships with key allies, particularly the United States, NATO, the European Union and allies in the Middle East, are likely to evolve in the future. This session informed Inquiry Panel members of the broader strategic security and diplomatic relationships relevant to the UK’s use of armed drones and the changing threat landscape within which they operate.

On the 31st October, the Inquiry took evidence from Dr Tom Simpson, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and Professor Stuart Russel, Professor of Computer Science and Smith-Zadeh Professor in Engineering at University of California, Berkeley on the ethical, policy and strategic security issues relevant to lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Throughout the Inquiry, Inquiry Panel members have identified the need to consider what implications the UK’s existing drone policy and use may have for technology of the future and, in turn, what emerging technology may mean for the UK’s future drone policy and partnership working. Discussions during this session gave an invaluable insight in to the ongoing technological developments relevant to unmanned weapons systems, autonomy and robotics and considered how the UK Government should respond to these developments at a national and international level. A transcript of this discussion is available here.

The final Inquiry evidence session was held on the 5th December and addressed the legal frameworks relevant to the use of armed drones both in theory and in practice. Dr Marko Milanovic, Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham School of Law and Professor Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, gave a timely and comprehensive overview of the law on the use of armed force, international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Particular consideration was given to the concept of imminence in the law of self defence and the notion of the direct participation in hostilities in international humanitarian law.  For a transcript of the discussion, please see here.

These three sessions have provided the Inquiry Panel with invaluable additional insights to complement the first three public evidence sessions and the significant amount of written evidence that has been received from international organisations, non-governmental organisations and former and current policymakers. The inquiry panel will be working over the coming months to complete its final analysis and expects to be able to publish its recommendations in early 2018.

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