Church argues for Just War ethics in drone attacks

The ethics of using unmanned aircraft to carry outtargeted killings was debated at the Methodist Conference inPlymouth today.

On the day it was announced that the British Army is to berestructured, Methodists agreed that the UK Government should urgethe U.S. to discontinue the practice of targeting suspected membersof terrorist organisations with drones. The Conference also askedthe UK Government to publish as much information as possibleconcerning its current strategy, with particular reference tocounter insurgency. Church leaders expressed concern that increasedmilitary reliance on remotely operated weaponry could make armedintervention more likely as the physical risk to home troops islower.

A working group of policy experts submitted a report to theMethodist Conference highlighting moral concerns surrounding theuse of drones, recognising that armed unmanned aircraft has thepotential to transform the use of air power in conflict andcounter-insurgency. Steve Hucklesby, a Methodist policyadviser and member of the working group, said: "If there is alegitimate use for this technology we need a much clearer idea ofthe boundaries for its use.  Terrorists function outside thelaw. It is vitally important that the UK and its allies do not doso as well. The targeted killings carried out by the CIA innorthern Pakistan demonstrate only too clearly the ethicalchallenges that will face us as this technology proliferates morewidely."

A report to the Conference on drone warfare states that in thewake of the 9/11 atrocity the U.S. Government passed legislationenabling the President to use military force to pursue thoseresponsible. "It is on this basis that the CIA has operated ArmedUnmanned Aircraft Systems in a persistent campaign of targetedkillings in northern Pakistan," the report states. "Accuratefigures for those killed are difficult to obtain but estimatessuggest between 1,717 and 2,680 since 2004. It is even moredifficult to determine what proportion of those persons killed weremilitants, terrorists or civilians. Terrorists are not warriors andthose suspected to be guilty of, or to be plotting, even the mostdreadful of crimes need to be dealt with using an accountablejudicial process."

The United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britainvoiced their support for the Conference's decision. Frank Kantor,the United Reformed Church's Secretary for Church and Society,said:  "The United Reformed Church is a member of the JointPublic Issues Team that submitted the report debated at MethodistConference.  The ethical and moral issues surrounding dronesis a significant issue and we are pleased that the MethodistConference has engaged with this debate - the URC will be grapplingwith the same issue at its General Assembly, which meets nextweek."

Stephen Keyworth, Head of Faith and Unity at the Baptist Union ofGreat Britain, said: "Drone technology and their use in conflictpresent us with a new dimension to an age-old ethical issue. We welcome the work completed for the report and the way it hasbeen addressed by the Methodist Conference; Baptists will have anopportunity to make a similar contribution to this important debatein the coming months."