The United Nations now has its own drone program. Its first unmanned aircraft took off earlier this week in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Joining some 87 countries with the capability, the organisation says it’s just keeping up with the world’s technological advances.
But there’s a big caveat to the UN’s drone fleet: the aircraft are unarmed. Peacekeepers will be using their drones to monitor the movements of violent militias, and flights will be limited to Congolese airspace. Two drones have already been deployed from the northern city of Goma, and there are plans to launch more in the spring.
This is a bit of an about-face for the global peacekeeping organisation. Despite having expressed scepticism over some countries’ use of drones — albeit often the ones used for targeted killings — the UN now feels like the technology is necessary. “This is a first in the history of the United Nations that such an advanced technological tool has been used in peacekeeping mission,” Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at the unveiling. “The UN needs to use these kinds of tools to better perform its mandate.”
However some drone critics say the distinction between being pro- and anti-drone doesn’t matter. “Drones are a technology that are here to stay,” Peter Singer, head of the Brookings Institution’s Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence told Wired. “There are so many ‘debates’ now where the people call themselves ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ drone, which is like being pro or anti computers, quaint but irrelevant. Its all about how you use the technology, not the widget itself.” After all, drones can do plenty of good too.