Drones – the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war

On October 13th 2012, Medact released its report “Drones: the physical and psychological implications of a global theatre of war“.

In the past decade, there has been an exponential increase in the proliferation and use of armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – commonly known as ‘drones’. This new technology makes it possible to attack an enemy thousands of miles away without fear of retaliation.

In addition to the number of deaths and injuries of innocent civilians caused by their use, there is increasing evidence of the psychological damage to people living under the constant threat of drone attack, and to the drone operators themselves.

Up to the end of September 2012, Britain had carried out over 300 drone strikes in Afghanistan. There are plans to double the UK’s fleet and to open a second control station at RAF Waddington in late 2012. A joint British-French drone could be developed by 2015-2020.

Considering drones from a public health perspective reveals the human cost of their use, the moral and ethical issues raised by ‘targeted killings’, and their dubious legal status. Drone strikes are frequently based on an ‘imminent threat’ and potentially inaccurate intelligence, in situations of highly asymmetric conflict. Far from defeating terrorism, drone attacks appear to act as a recruiting agent, including for suicide missions.

The recommendations of this report include greater parliamentary and public scrutiny of the use of drones, their inclusion in arms limitation treaties, and a stop to further automation in their operations. We believe it is time for the UK government to stop purchasing, developing and deployoing armed drones.

Download this report

Medact produced an update to this report in November 2013