The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK



The sixth University of Birmingham Policy Commission is exploring the implications of warfare becoming increasingly remote in the 21st Century. It examines the challenges and opportunities that drone technology – both commercial and military – poses for current and successive UK governments.

Looking beyond the controversies surrounding the use of armed drones in the Global War on Terror, the Commission considers the ways in which new developments in science and technology transform the landscape of security and defence and the implications this has for UK public policy in a national, regional, and international context.

There is much debate about whether drones or, as Air Forces prefer to call them, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have contributed to wider international security. Their use raises many questions around issues such as:

  • how to balance the conflicting moral choices involved in conducting counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations;
  • how far the availability of armed drones would have changed decision-making in Washington and London in earlier international crises;
  • the ethically troubling concern: if armed drones make warfare riskless for those conducting it, does this lower their inhibitions to using force?

Though the use of UAVs is on the increase, their future role in national strategy and security remains a contested one. This new form of warfare has not been without critics in the countries operating the systems, or among the populations over which they have been used.

A key objective of this Policy Commission is to cut through some of the over-simplifications and misconceptions that shape much of the current debate on drone technology. The Commission brings together distinguished public servants from the military, defence industry, and NGO community as well as leading academics from the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham. By combining the knowledge generated from our academic research with the insights and experience from practice, the Commission will highlight the pertinent issues facing UK policy makers and practitioners in the coming decades.

For further information about this Policy Commission please click here.