Drones create new dilemmas
A fine article, “Flesh and drones” (January 27–February 2), for the first edition of 2018. Karen Middleton points to “the ethical, humanitarian and security challenges” of drone strikes. A more pointed expression of which is the moral, legal and policy dilemmas that Australian Defence Force personnel who make future targeted killing decisions using drones will face. She is, however, mistaken to speak of “the laws of armed conflict and international human rights law” as compatible. I suspect she meant to write “international humanitarian law” (IHL). IHL and human rights are complementary but distinctly different. A targeted drone strike that kills civilians is lawful under IHL, as “collateral damage” is permissible during an armed conflict. Contrast human rights, its rules are less permissive when it comes to killing civilians. There is no balancing of collateral damage and military necessity within human rights.
One should be really questioning such necessity and the proportionality of killing civilians when conducting future drone strikes. At a more fundamental level, drone strikes by the ADF outside of Australia raise its jus ad bellum, governing when force can be used extra-territorially. The 2015 film Eye in the Sky, starring Helen Mirren, exemplified these dilemmas. We should be concerned about hacking of the ADF’s drone feed by other military powers. The British Government Communications Headquarters and United States National Security Agency reportedly collected live video from Israeli Heron TP armed drones as part of Operation Anarchist, which operated from a British mountaintop listening post on Cyprus in 2009–10.
– Greg Hogan, Balgowlah, NSW