Military Drones and the EU

Military Drones and the EU

November 29, 2020

The role of unmanned systems in the European Union’s defence developments

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As the international security environment becomes increasingly more complex and contested, the European Union has begun to make significant progress on its security and defence policies.

Though it is far from establishing a European Army, the EU is being increasingly adapted for military purposes. New instruments related to the integration, financing, and coordination of military research, development, and operations have been created in quick succession.

Military unmanned systems, or drones, have taken a central stage within these developments. Their development is considered to be essential for future military operations, for the EU’s strategic sovereignty, as a future export product, and as a testbed for closer EU cooperation. However, the use of these systems has also raised serious legal, ethical, and humanitarian concerns.

Armed drones have been extensively used to carry out extrajudicial killings, have caused numerous civilian casualties, and there are ethical implications of having a relatively cheap and risk-free tool to use lethal force with. It is therefore worth examining how the developments within the EU might affect the use of military drones by Member States.  

The findings of this report show that within the EU there is a clear intention to develop armed drones, but that discussions or policies that guide their use are absent. This gap is concerning, as the way in which the EU Defence is developing does not bode well for issues of accountability and transparency.

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