About

About the APPG on Drones and Modern Conflict

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones was founded in October 2012, and evolved its framing to Drones and Modern Conflict in 2021. 

Initially the Group was established to examine the use of military drones by governments, with a focus on scrutiny and oversight, adherence to the rule of law, and understanding and mitigating civilian harm. In recent years, the Group has seen that its concerns pertaining to the legality, transparency and accountability of drone use apply across the use of force in remote and non-conventional military operations more generally.

Drawing on the vital lessons from drones, our work now brings together conversations on international law, military technology and covert operations, with existing discussions on conventional operations, strategy and civilian protection. The scope and work of the Group looks comprehensively at the implications of drone use combined with other ‘remote’ measures, such as conventional airstrikes, explosive weapons in populated areas, covert Special Forces operations and partner assistance.

This broader focus more comprehensively highlights the underlying risks and weaknesses across current strategy, process and policy, and illuminates more effective approaches to current security challenges. It also serves to pinpoint the gaps in the understanding of current operations, and reveals the extent to which UK military commitments are outpacing current parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms.

Who we are

The APPG on Drones and Modern Conflict is an interest group that occupies a strategic and effective position within the UK Parliament. It is cross-party, with a minimum number of Parliamentarians from the Government and the official opposition; and cross-house, made up of both Peers (Members of the House of Lords) and MPs (Members of the House of Commons). 

The Group is chaired by Stewart McDonald MP (SNP) and Baroness Stern (Crossbench) and has 63 Members from both Houses of Parliament. The Group’s Vice-Chairs are Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Conservative), Baroness Smith of Newnham (Liberal Democrat) and Alex Sobel MP (Labour).

The Group is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Polden Puckham Charitable Foundation, and is grateful for their ongoing support.

The Group’s status is that of an All-Party Parliamentary Group, bound by the rules set out by The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.  It does not have charitable status, or official status in the House, nor is it funded by Parliament.

Purpose

The Group’s purpose is to examine the capabilities and commitments driving contemporary warfare (including working by, with and through partners, the use of drones and technological capabilities, and the increase in covert operations) which are outpacing conventional oversight mechanisms and safeguarding regimes, and resulting in rising civilian casualties worldwide.

We aim to aid Parliament in promoting the highest standards of legality, transparency and accountability in military operations and strengthen the UK’s commitment to the rules-based international system and maintain its role as a leader in upholding global peace and security.

The Group’s entry on the Register of All-Party Groups can be found here

Aims

The Group’s cross-cutting aims are:

  1. Championing the protection of civilians in conflict as a top-line priority across governmental departments; 
  2. Ensuring the rule of law and international-rules based system is adhered to, in spirit and letter, by the UK government; and
  3. Strengthening Parliament’s role and ability to scrutinise policy and hold the government to account for UK and partnered operations.

Thematic focus

  • Challenges in modern conflict;
  • UK operations and policy;
  • UK partnered operations and policy.

The challenges of modern conflict

Conflicts are getting more complex, occuring in densely populated areas and featuring a multiplicity of actors. Simultaneously, we’re seeing a move away from large-scale ground interventions toward an increasingly remote approach that overwhelmingly relies on the use of air and drone strikes; wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas; special forces operations; and working with partners as the primary means of achieving military objectives.

This disproportionately kills and harms civilian populations; today, 90% of conflict deaths are civilians, up from 50% in the Second World War. 

States like the UK, looking to address security threats and vulnerabilities overseas, are increasingly turning to the use of remote force, technology, and partner assistance. Drawing on a ‘war-on-terror’ approach, we are seeing an increasingly permissive environment for the use of force, with almost no accountability for civilian harm. Operating in this context requires a significant re-evaluation of the methods by which the UK and its allies utilises its military, and addresses insecurity and instability. This is of particular importance, as evidence shows that current approaches emphasising short-term militaristic responses, and are inadequate and counter-productive –  addressing symptoms of conflict rather than its root causes.

UK operations and policy

Britain’s military capabilities and commitments are diverse and growing. Increasingly, the UK is relying on unconventional and remote force, light footprint operations and partnerships in response to insecurity and instability overseas.

These military capabilities and commitments, however, are outpacing existing procedures for parliamentary scrutiny and oversight. Furthermore,  Parliament is privy to central legal positions, policies and guidance that inform UK military actions.

Recent revelations of UK involvement in alleged war crimes, directly and via partnerships, highlights the need for robust parliamentary mechanisms to enable meaningful scrutiny of military operations, as well as the guidance, policy and strategy upon which they are based. 

UK partnered operations and policy

The UK routinely works with partners when executing its defence and security policies. These partnerships range from coalition operations, to assistance arrangements, including intelligence-sharing, arms export, and providing partners with access to UK assets, equipment and bases.

Parliament’s ability to obtain information about UK defence partnerships and effectively scrutinise these is extremely limited. This is concerning, considering the weaknesses in, and risks of, current partnership arrangements, as revealed in legal cases and independent inquiries. 

As the UK increasingly relies on working with, by, and through partners, it is essential that parliamentary mechanisms are updated, and information provided, to ensure this kind of military activity is adequately scrutinised.

How we work

We intend to achieve our aims by working to the three following objectives.

Building strategic alliances between I) our cross-party membership of Parliamentarians across both Houses; and II) our diverse, cross-sector expert network.

Addressing current security challenges in modern conflict is complex, and requires accuracy, nuance and diverse sources of knowledge. By reaching out and engaging with all relevant stakeholders, we aim to forge consensus and inch towards recommendations for policies that have buy-in across sectors and the political spectrum. 

We currently have 63 Parliamentary members; and over 50 cross-sector individuals and organisations in our expert network, ranging from humanitarian to legal, academic, governmental and military actors.

Providing in-depth research and recommendations to Parliamentarians on security, foreign and defence policy

As a Group run by Parliamentarians for Parliamentarians, we focus on the benefits we can bring to our membership. We consult widely, using our 50+ cross-sector expert network to provide detailed, evidence-based and compelling briefs and recommendations to support Parliamentarians in their vital roles scrutinising government policy, and working towards improvements.

Facilitating effective use of Parliamentary mechanisms to keep Group aims high on the agenda and influence policy change 

We aim to identify opportunities and provide support to our membership to contribute to policy debates via Parliamentary mechanisms. 

We inform Parliamentarians through disseminating APPG evidence-led arguments, and support Member’s engagement in both Houses and in the media. 

Group Officers also feed into Parliamentary processes through joint submissions to Committee Inquiries and government consultations, tabling debates, drafting amendments to legislation, Early Day Motions and other parliamentary business.

For more information contact

If you would like further information about the work of the Group, please contact Aditi Gupta via email: guptaab [at] parliament.uk; or Camilla Molyneux via: molyneuc [at] parliament.uk

Alternatively, write to: All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones and Modern Conflict, c/o Office of Stewart McDonald MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

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