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On Remotely Piloted Aircraft

From The Hoya:

The Georgetown Amnesty International and The Asian Studies Program held the second event of the Drone Awareness Project, “Drones and International Law” on Wednesday.

The discussion featured Anthony Arend, government professor and the director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service, who focused on the use of drones since the 9/11 attacks and their associated legality on an international scale.

“There are different ways of evaluating the efficacy of [remotely piloted aircrafts] — politically, militarily, legally and ethically. You may have different outcomes depending on the way you look at it. You may determine they are ethically abhorrent but still legal, for example,”Arend said.

Arend identified the two strands of law relating to such attacks, the jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

“Our jus ad bellum issue is, if an armed attack has occurred, does the United States or any other state involved have the right to use military force in response to that? If that armed attack is still going on, is it something we can still respond to? If it is, and we still are connected to that, there would seem to be a lawful use of force for that,” Arend said. “The second law related to the conduct of hostilities — the law that outlines how all parties have to behave in an international conflict is the jus in bello.”

In assessing the legality of a drone strike, Arend also touched on the proportionality of the attack and the legitimacy of targets attacked. While much of the international community has come to the consensus that attacks should be proportional to a prior attack or perceived threat, and that some targets are legitimate and some are not, it is largely subjective to determine what is considered proportional and when illegitimate targets lose their legitimacy.

“My ultimate conclusion is this: There is nothing per se illegal in international law about the use of remotely piloted aircraft. You may think there are political problems with their use per se or ethical problems, but from a legal perspective there is nothing illegal about their use any more than there would be about an M16 or an AK47,” Arend said.

Georgetown Amnesty International member Bassam Sidiki (COL ’16), who helped out with the event, felt the discussion gave a much more accurate representation of the issue, as it separated legal and ethical issues.

“As I am a Pakistani-American, this is something very close to my life. I moved to the [United States] … four years ago and this is an issue that many of my friends in Pakistan are very passionate about. Many think that it’s an infringement on Pakistani sovereignty. I want to bring about a more nuanced transnational conversation to this issue,” Sidiki said.

To many students, the event allowed them to partake and dissect a more nuanced view on drones.

“Speaking for Amnesty International and myself we are against the use of drones. The lecture made me agree that drones are legal in international law but the way the … [United States] is applying them to force must be proportional,” Georgetown Amnesty International President Joseph Lanzilla (SFS ’16) said. “I think there is still a lot of gray area … [with] the appropriate use of drones, how we define legitimate targets and react to the people who help the wounded and rush in immediately after a drone strike.”

The remaining three events in the Drone Awareness Project series will take place after spring break.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.