Inquiry launch

The APPG on Drones is launching a new inquiry into ‘The Use of Armed Drones: Working with Partners’. The cross-party inquiry panel will be chaired by former RUSI Director Professor Michael Clarke. The purpose of the inquiry is to analyse the emerging technologies of drones, the ways in which the UK carries out joint and assisted operations with them, and make recommendations to ensure an appropriate level of transparency and accountability for those operations in Parliament. Witnesses for the first evidence session include General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander Joint Forces Command. The terms of reference are here.

The APPG has today published two new Memorandums of Understanding, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which address UK-US Reaper sharing, and the assignment of personnel to USAFRICOM to fulfil US operational requirements. Inquiry witnesses will be invited to comment on the MoUs, which provide frameworks enabling a high degree of collaborative working in complex environments under a single joint command.

The inquiry will build on the JCHR report on ‘The Government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killing,’ picking up some of the issues identified by the Committee but left unresolved. These include the legal and strategic basis for national drones policy and UK support for covert targeted killing outside armed conflict by the United States. This is a growing concern for MPs, 35 of whom have signed an EDM calling for implementation of the JCHR recommendations before the ongoing Defence Policy Review of RPAS is completed. 

The inquiry comes at a time when President-elect Trump is set to inherit the covert targeted killing programme developed by the Obama administration. Rather than restricting the US drone programme, as some have anticipated, President Obama recently brought operations against Al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa within the US ‘global war on terror’ framework, suggesting that an expansion of the programme may be on the horizon. Criticisms about the lack of accountability and uncertain legal basis of the US programme may now seem all the more pertinent, although this has not deterred the MOD from describing the UK’s ‘Protector’ programme as ‘part of further strengthening [of the security partnership with the US].’

Interestingly, one vocal critic of the US drone programme is the President-elect’s National Security Advisor and former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency General Michael Flynn. General Flynn previously called the drone programme a ‘failed strategy’ and warned that ‘when you drop a bomb from a drone…you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.’ 

Likely to be of assistance to the UK (and others) when President-elect Trump takes office is the new research paper and recommendations from Chatham House’s International Law Programme, entitled ‘Aiding and Assisting: Challenges in Armed Conflict and Counterterrorism’, which is to be discussed at Chatham House this evening. The European Council on Foreign Relation’s paper on ‘Europe’s new counter-terrorism wars’ is also recommended reading.


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