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The UN Wants To Deploy Drones In Congo As Part Of Its Peacekeeping Operation
January 9, 2013
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The United Nations peacekeeping department has asked the Security Council to back plans to fly unmanned surveillance drones over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the first time.

The UN says the move is a necessary part of modernizing its peacekeeping operations, and a way to monitor large areas of land in the eastern region of the DRC where troops are stretched thin.

Some countries have already expressed their support for the move. France's UN mission Tweeted that "the UN needs additional modern resources - in particular drones - to be better informed, more reactive," and the DRC's government is in favour of drone use.

But Rwanda, which shares a border with the DRC, has opposed the use of drones, and other countries are suspicious, according to Al Jazeera.

"Africa must not become a laboratory for intelligence devices from overseas," Olivier Nduhungirehe, a Rwandan diplomat at the UN, told the Washington Post. "We don't know whether these drones are going to be used to gather intelligence from Kigali, Kampala, Bujumbura or the entire region."

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The UN says the drones will be deployed in the massive eastern border of the DRC, an area where Rwanda has been accused of helping rebels fight the government. Rwanda denies the charge.

According to the UN, there is no intention to arm the drones or to spy on countries that have not agreed to their use.

"These are really just flying cameras," said one UN official anonymously. "Our best method of protection is early warning. We recently had a patrol ambushed in Darfur. If you had a drone ahead of the patrol, it could have seen the ambush party."

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As well as the DRC deployment, the UN is studying the feasibility of using drones in Ivory Coast, and UN military planners say they see a need for drones in many other missions, including Darfur, Sudan and South Sudan. But they acknowledge it's unlikely that Sudan would allow them.

The UN has used a drone in the past. Last February, they deployed a single drone in Haiti to survey earthquake damage and help coordinate recovery efforts. And the organization has used information from other countries' drones in the past.

Using the technology in peacekeeping is a more sensitive subject.

One major question is who will have access to the images and intelligence that the drones collect. In the 1990s, the U.S. and other major powers infiltrated the UN weapons inspection agency to surreptitiously collect intelligence on Saddam Hussein's military, and there is concern that a similar situation could develop here.

At least one commentator has said that a lot of the resistance is due to fears that the drones would replace the legions of UN peacekeepers.

"This really boils down to a concern from the troop coordinators that they are going to be sidelined," said Richard Gowan, an expert on UN peacekeeping at New York University's Centre on International Cooperation. "A drone is a cheaper and more efficient alternative to an infantry patrol. I think, very frankly, that a number of the large African and Asian troop contributors are worried that if the United Nations gets involved in high-tech operations like this, that their personnel will be made redundant."

The issue of drone use has created a lot of heated discussion in recent years. Here are a couple of articles that represent different aspects of the debate.

Joshua Foust, writing in The Atlantic, suggests that the U.S. government is more reliant on drone warfare than it should be, and states that "there are other ways of addressing the problem of terrorism."

On the other hand, Rosa Brooks wrote a piece for Foreign Policy questioning some anti- drone warfare positions. She concludes that "many of the most common objections to drones don't hold up well under scrutiny."

Related:

A New Weapon In The War Against Hunger?

The WWF Is Using Aerial Drones To Track Down Poachers

U.S. Army Developing Drones that Can Recognize Your Face and Intentions

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