Early February, the Munich Security Report titled “The Great Puzzle: Who will Pick Up the Pieces” was published, which provides an overview of current geopolitical issues related to security and defence by the Munich Security Conference Foundation. This annual report, which , discusses various relevant developments that will be discussed at the Munich Security Conference, focused on the ‘global challenge to arms control’ as there have been a range of development in the field of nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles and emerging military technologies.
The report specifically outlines issues concerning the proliferation of armed drones through upcoming producers of military drones, and how this can impact regional stability. The report states that..
“heavy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with operational ranges of thousands of kilometers, such as the US-made Predator drone, already feature in the arsenals of 30 countries. China is becoming a leading no-strings-attached exporter of strike-capable drones. With regard to such arms as well as, for instance, lethal autonomous weapons or cyber weaponry, rapid technological progress renders it difficult to ascertain which characteristics and capabilities will be militarily decisive. This further complicates placing effective quantitative or qualitative constraints on their development or proliferation.”
The report warns of how proliferation and deal making around these emerging technologies can impact threat-perception, and calls for renewed focus on finding solutions for these issues related to arms control and arms exports.
Ahead of the conference, the organization also published a joint report with McKinsey on the European defense debate, titled “More European, More Connected and More Capable. Building the European Armed Forces of the Future”. While the paper itself does not directly mention issues of drone technology, the recommendations call for prioritization of multibillion investments to close the “interconnectedness and digitization gap and upgrade its armed forces” which includes
“spending on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and provision of smart services along with a more efficient and resilient digital backbone.” The report outlines concerns over the backlog vis-à-vis the United States arsenal and states that this technology gap needs to be bridged. One of those gaps has been identified in past publications and policy documents as drone technologies, including platforms and all kinds of sensors payloads.
The growing awareness of the role of emerging drone technologies can play an important role in ongoing discussions on geopolitical changes and regional security issues. Development of unmanned systems has been a priority within EU policies and the European Defence Fund based on cost-effectiveness, capability-gaps, and the need for strategic autonomy, as well as for use in law enforcement, border patrol and military operations. However, focus on the utility and proliferation of unmanned technology should also include reflections on policies regarding their deployment, and what the political, legal and ethical and strategic implications can be for society, law enforcement, and warfare.