The UN appears to be maintaining an air of sensitivity in its acquisition of unmanned technology; wise in light of the botched media image that derived from the CIA’s unmanned air vehicle operations in Pakistan and Yemen.
When organisations such as the CIA and the UN – not directly affiliated with military intervention – consider utilising a technology with such moral and ethical debate surrounding it, it seems sensible to weigh up your options and not rush into committing to the purchase of this shiny new technology.
The UN pledged another year of operations in Mali – as well as the Golan Heights and the Ivory Coast – on 25 June. This will see the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (MINUSMA) extended through to 30 June 2015 in light of the continued “fragile state” that the North of Mali finds itself in.
On 11 June, secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, led a discussion among the consortium’s delegates, during which members repeated the almost age-old debate that surrounds the use of UAVs in support of this type of mission, and the potential deployment of systems in support of peacekeeping in Mali.
Russia’s input to the debate was of interest, as its representative – who organised the collective discussion – said that all of this needs to be done within the boundaries of the UN charter.
He added that the UN Organisation Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) mission – which is currently deploying UAVs – has raised several legal, technical and logistical issues, while at the same time impacting the organisation’s image and the security of the personnel involved.
The Selex ES-developed Falco has been deployed to Africa under the MONUSCO mission, which in spite of undergoing a “hard-landing” – which possibly translates as “crash” – on 15 January, is considered by the UN to have had a “positive impact” on the mission there.
Ban Ki-Moon added that there were significant levels of violence in Darfur, South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than two thirds of the organisation’s peacekeepers are deployed, while ominously warning that “peacekeepers were increasingly mandated to operate where there was no peace to keep”.
Observing that UAV use is sometimes criticised, Nigeria’s U Joy Ogwu added that in spite of this, the UN “must not persist in using twentieth-century tools in the twenty-first century”.
In April the UN issued a “request for expression of interest” on the potential use of UAVs in peacekeeping missions in Mali, operating out of both Timbuktu and Gao. As a result, its June debate may have just been a lot of hot air, if the organisation is going ahead with acquiring a capability of this type anyway.
However, it is very clearly taking a carefully considered step-by-step approach, as the April request follows a very similar one issued on 10 January.
This level of consideration and transparency may help the UN become a responsible operator of unmanned technology. That would be refreshing in an age where non-military personnel are obliged to carry out what was previously considered a military mission.