The United Nations has announced that it plans to deploy surveillance drones for the first time. The drones will be deployed in Central and West Africa, and are part of a broader strategy to modernize the organisation’s peacekeeping missions. The plans have, however, met with a considerable amount of suspicion.
The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping has told Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that it plans to deploy a fleet of at least three spy drones in the rebel-plagued eastern region of Congo. This will be the first time that the UN has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles, but it is unlikely to be the last as the UN sees this as the first step towards integrating drone technology into its many peacekeeping missions.
The plan has met with resistance from African governments and other observers. “Africa must not become a laboratory for intelligence devices from overseas,” said Olivier Nduhungirehe, a Rwandan diplomat at the United Nations. “We don’t know whether these drones are going to be used to gather intelligence from Kigali, Kampala, Bujumbura or the entire region.”
Mr Nduhungirehe is giving voice to a common concern – that the western powers who control this modern technology will also have control over their deployment and the intelligence data which they collect. Some countries fear that the use of drones will give western powers an easy way to spy on developing nations, and unprecedented control of UN intelligence gathering. Currently most UN intelligence comes from troops and observers on the ground, who are drawn from a wide range of different countries. There are also suggestions that some countries are concerned that their troops may be effectively made redundant by the cheaper and more effective drones.
China, Russia, Rwanda, Pakistan and Guatemala all expressed concerns over the deployment of peacekeeping drones during a UN debate.