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Armed Drones: Legal Issues from an International Law Perspective (Oeter)

In short by Gertrud Maria Vaske

The international debate on the issues surrounding armed drone usage often triggers unease in Germany. This is evident from reactions to proposals by the German armed forces which consider the procurement of drones. From a military point of view, there are some good reasons for the use of drones. Concerns are voiced from the perspective of international law, political science and social ethics.

In his essay, Prof. Dr. Stefan Oeter explains that international humanitarian law (IHL) does not in itself prohibit the use of armed drones. Critical objections, however, rest on social ethics principles. And it is on these principles that IHL and its rules on methods and means of warfare are based.

The author adopts a skeptical attitude toward the classification of armed drones as a weapons platform and not as ordnance in the technical sense. For him, any general evaluation of the use of armed drones under IHL becomes caught up in the controversies surrounding asymmetrical conflicts, targeted killings and “collateral damage”, and is likely to be contentious according to the individual case. 

Not least, basic patterns of ethical justification for killing in war come into play. Oeter finds this doubtful with regard to the use of combat drones. Another problem which he identifies is the ethical desensitization of the military actor or decision-maker.

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