This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

flying camera1

A United Nations panel on technological development has called for peacekeeping missions to be equipped with unmanned drones to survey conflict zones. Despite the great controversy around their use, UASs are seemingly set to become a peacekeeping staple.

According to a report published in February by an ‘Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping’ the UN remains “well behind the curve” in warfare technological advances. The report warns that this constitutes a dangerous disadvantage to UN soldiers working in volatile regions.

“The argument we’re making is that peacekeeping missions on the ground should have at least the same operational capability that every government has within its police and military forces,” Jane Holl Lute, who led the panel, told France 24.

“The capacity of aerial visualisation is coming to everyone, in every setting – agriculture, disaster response, conflict – and we say that the member states need to take a look at empowering peacekeeping missions more broadly as part of an overall orientation towards technology to strengthen their hand.”

Eager to avoid the term “drone” because of its connotations with widely unpopular US military strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the UN describes its unmanned aerial systems , or UASs (unmanned aerial systems), as “flying cameras” and stresses their strict surveillance-only purpose.

However, this is not always accurate. The first UN use of drones was in December 2013, when UASs began scanning the eastern Great Lakes region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. This is where one of the world’s deadliest conflicts has seen militias, warlords and government forces battling for more than 20 years.

UN UASs were used there for surveillance as well as deterrence purposed. They were flown low enough for the combatants to see them, on purpose. This was after the UN changed its policy in the Congo.  The Security Council had voted to revoke its policy of firing only in self-defense, and passed a decision to extend the mandate of the “force intervention brigade” (FIB) it had previously set up for the Congo. The FIB is the first UN peacekeeping formation specifically tasked to carry out targeted offensive operations. It was set up originally in March 2013.