posted on Fri 5 Jul 2019 3:23 PM
Informal Interactive Dialogue on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

On Monday (8 July), Peru is planning to convene an informal interactive dialogue (an informal private meeting of Council members) on the challenges and opportunities of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The meeting is expected to focus in particular on the impact of armed UAVs on international peace and security, although there may also be discussion of the use of unarmed UAVs, including in the context of counter-terrorism operations. The anticipated briefers are: Renata Dwan, Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) (via video-teleconference); Rahma A. Hussein, the former Legal Fellow of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School; and Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.

The Council discussed the use of unarmed UAVs in June 2014 in an open debate on new trends in peacekeeping held at the initiative of Russia (S/PV.7196). Since the first deployment of unarmed UAVs by the UN to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in 2013, UN peace operations in Mali and the Central African Republic have used these unarmed assets to identify armed movements, monitor camps for internally displaced persons, and provide timely reconnaissance over vast and sensitive areas.

When the Council debated the use of unarmed UAVs five years ago, the topic proved to be divisive among the UN membership. Some member states highlighted the UAVs’ effectiveness in providing accurate information about otherwise hard-to-reach areas, deterring threats, and contributing to the safety and security of peacekeepers. However, other member states, including some host states, opposed their use, raising questions about access to the information gathered by these systems and concerns about sovereignty whenever they fly over border zones.

While previous Council meetings have addressed the use of unarmed UAVs in the context of peace operations, the use of armed UAVs has been discussed at the subsidiary level in the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee, which is chaired by Peru. Monday’s meeting builds on these discussions. It seems that the informal interactive dialogue format is intended to promote a frank discussion in a private setting, where members can air their views on a complex emerging issue.

The concept note that Peru has prepared for the meeting states that given the “increasing production, export and deployment and use of armed UAVs…including in situations [on the Council’s agenda], there is a clear need to understand the nature of the problem, [and] develop common standards to improve transparency, oversight and accountability” with regard to their use.

Among the questions posed in the concept note to help facilitate the discussion are:

  • What are the key challenges presented by armed UAVs to international peace and security?
  • What would be the most effective international measures to regulate the production, trade and use of armed UAVs?
  • What measures can be pursued to enhance the oversight, accountability and transparency of the transfer and use of armed UAVs in a way that promotes the protection of civilians, the maintenance of international peace and security, and respect for international law?
  • What initiatives are under development with regard to unarmed UAVs, including in a counter-terrorism context?