Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Letter

Drones to killer robots: how EU is spending tax-payer money

On Thursday (29 November) the European Defence Agency hosts its annual conference: From Unmanned to Autonomous Systems: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities.

The event is the annual get-together of the EU establishment and the representatives of the defence industry.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

We, a group of 177 European scientists, are alarmed about the military turn the EU is taking.

Both the massive amount of public funds that the EU is allocating for military research and the potential development of autonomous weapons should worry us all.

Defence policy in Europe remains a national jurisdiction. What wars to wage, what equipment to buy, they remain questions to be answered by every government independently.

But as an economic union the EU has a listening ear for every industry, including the defence industry.

This is how, in 2017, the European Union took the unprecedented step of setting up a military research programme worth €90m.

In 2019 the European Parliament will vote on the much larger European Defence Fund, a €13bn military funding scheme.

The fund is already controversial.

The European Ombudsman has slammed the European Commission on several instances for its lack of transparency.

There are also concerns about the murky involvement of the defence industry in its set-up of the fund.

Research shows that some policy proposals from the commission were almost literally copied from position papers of the defence industry.

EU funding of military research will not be without consequence. It will likely fuel an arms race.

Tomorrow's wars

The military technologies developed today will be the ones bought tomorrow to fight the wars of the future.

In the meantime, scientific research which might actually contribute to preventing violent conflict is being neglected.

Furthermore, EU citizens' tax money isn't financing just any kind of weapon technology.

The focus of EDA's annual conference this week suggests the EU wants to follow the trend, after drones, toward autonomous weapons.

Fully-autonomous weapons, also known as killer robots would be able to select and engage targets without human intervention.

As such they will be unable to meet international humanitarian law standards, including the rules of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity, while they would threaten the fundamental right to life and principle of human dignity.

The line between unmanned and autonomous systems is often a thin one.

Since the beginning of this year the European Union has started funding the military project Ocean 2020.

This is a project that will integrate enhanced air, naval surface and underwater unmanned systems into fleet operations to build up a recognised maritime picture of developing situations for military commanders.

Another controversial project which is rumoured to be in the pipeline is an "armed ground drone" developed by Estonia, Latvia and Finland.

As a semi-autonomous companion for soldiers on the ground, it can identify and track targets at ranges of up to 5km.

In addition to the actual vehicle, the project would develop an autonomous control system, cyber defence capabilities and an integrated network of sensors.

Because of their controversial nature, civil society, researchers, the European Parliament and a group of states are advocating a ban of autonomous weapons.

Governments should prohibit their use and development, as they did in the past with chemical weapons, anti-personnel mines and cluster munition.

But the initiative in favour of a ban is being undermined by countries that are exploring the development of such weapons, including the European Union.

For the last four years, we have been commemorating the horrors of the first World War, the war that led to the call 'Never Again'.

Are we, 100 years later, really going to fuel a new arms race?

This is a joint letter signed by 177 scientists from 17 countries. The complete list is here

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

European Defence Fund - the militarisation of EU science

The European Commission proposes a €13bn budget for research and development of military research, the European Defence Fund. Investing EU funds in military research will divert resources from more peaceful areas, and is likely to fuel arms races.

Magazine

EU buys guns

Gearing up for EU spending on arms procurement will be a top priority for the subcommittee on security and defence, according to its French chairwoman - but ethical questions remain.

Investigation

'Redacted' - what Google and Microsoft told Mogherini on AI

Is Mogherini's 'Global Tech Panel' just a talking shop, or does it contribute to EU policy? New documents suggest the latter, but give little clue how technology leaders from Microsoft and Google influence new AI strategy.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Column

Why Germans understand the EU best

In Germany, there is commotion about a new book in which two journalists describe meetings held during the corona crisis between federal chancellor Angela Merkel, and the 16 prime ministers of its federal constituent states.

Why Iceland isn't the gender paradise you think

Iceland's international reputation masks two blunt realities that face the country's women - the disproportionate levels of gender-based violence that they experience, and a justice system that is frequently suspicious and hostile towards victims of this violence.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us