Rete Pace Disarmo on the hypothesis of arming Italian drones: “serious and wrong choice that must be discussed in Parliament”
The dangers arising from the use of armed drones are clear: it lowers the threshold for the use of military force, it transfers risk and impact of war from soldiers to civilians, it expands the use of “targeted killings” beyond any jurisdiction and it feeds the false myth of “precision” when in fact the data show the high number of innocent civilians who are killed.
In the last few days the media and public opinion are returning to pay attention to the subject of armed drones, following the spread of details relating to the hypothesis that the Italian Ministry of Defence also wants to equip its drones with weapons. This possibility is in fact foreshadowed by some elements of the “MQ-9 Payload” sheet (in the section dedicated to new acquisition programs) present in the Documento Programmatico Pluriennale del per il triennio 2021-2023 recently released by the Ministry of Via XX Settembre.
In the description of the interventions on the Reaper drone already owned by the Air Force, the term “armament” is never used, but the payload (i.e. “payload”, a concept also used for weapons) is generically referred to as “in line with the required capacitive and operational output” in order to guarantee “incremental levels of safety and protection” and “defence capacity expressible from the air”. A long circumlocution in order not to have to admit with clarity the real objective: to equip Italian drones with missiles that would transform them from surveillance and detection instruments to systems to be used directly in conflict. At the moment the program would be financed for 59 million euros over 7 years (until 2027) but with a total requirement of 168 million euros.
Armed drones are an important issue on which the Italian Network for Peace and Disarmament and its partners have been working hard for a long time: in the past years, dossiers and in-depth studies have been published in an international research path, edited in particular by Archivio Disarmo, and conferences and institutional meetings have been organized (information in the notes to this Press Release). The central point of this activity has been the analysis of a weapon system that has drastically changed the current face of warfare, making it more complex, opaque and risky especially for civilians (contrary to what proponents of remotely piloted aircrafts, i.e. drones, say).
Concerns about the use of armed drones have been expressed both within the European Forum on Armed Drones of which we are part, and in the appropriate international fora (in particular the First Committee of the UN Assembly) with positions taken by civil society organizations. States (including Italy) have been made aware of a number of requests arising from concerns about the use of armed drones: to recognize the serious ethical and legal risks, to increase transparency on policies and rules of engagement, to investigate attacks involving civilians, to use procedures and rules of engagement that respect humanitarian law and the Arms Trade Treaty.
In particular, the deadly impact on civilians of aerial bombardments that characterize the “permanent wars” is worrying: several estimates show that the percentage of civilian victims in military actions carried out with armed drones is very high (in some cases even 90%), contrary to the myth of “precision” with which its use is supported. It must be remembered that among the cases of (so-called) “collateral” victims of attacks with unmanned aircrafts there is also the murder of the Italian cooperator Giovanni Lo Porto, one of the few killings confirmed by the USA but without being able to hold a trial and therefore define the responsibility for his death.
Complications do not only arise from actions in conflict: there is a risk of legal violations even when only “assisting” attacks. Together with our partners ECCHR and Reprieve we have warned the Italian government with three different letters, without receiving any answer, about the possible risks of the concession of the Sigonella Base as a starting point for armed drone attacks. In this regard we are also supporting the action of transparency of ECCHR, which has been asking for years for access to information on the legal framework that regulates the presence and use of American drones from the Sicilian base.
For all these reasons we ask the Government to provide all clarifications on the decision taken by the Ministry of Defense and the Parliament to urgently request the opening of a debate on the hypothesis of arming drones, with the involvement of international experts from civil society.