UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A United Nations panel assessing the future technological needs of peacekeeping missions has recommended dramatically expanding the use of unmanned surveillance drones in U.N. military operations, the head of the panel said on Monday.
Jane Holl Lute, who was previously U.S. deputy secretary for Homeland Security and a senior U.N. peacekeeping official, said that was one of 119 recommendations the expert panel on technology and innovation in U.N. peacekeeping made in a new report.
“We make a very strong recommendation that drones, or the capacity for aerial visualization, is a capacity every mission should have with very few exceptions,” Lute, who led the expert panel, told reporters.
Lute said her panel’s report, which was prepared for the U.N. departments of peacekeeping and field support, was widely discussed with U.N. troop contributing countries, which reacted favorably. Some nations did, however, raise questions about how information gathered by U.N. drones would be stored and shared.
The panel’s recommendation, she said, was that the United Nations would own the information gathered by it and there would have to be strict rules and procedures covering the use of drones and the imagery received from them. She also denied that the U.N. would become an intelligence gathering body.
“The U.N. needs information to operate safely and securely and with integrity and with effect,” she said. “You want basic information when you go out for a drive. Does that make you an intelligence gathering entity? No. You just want to know the environment you’re walking into.”
The United Nations began using surveillance drones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2013. U.N. officials and diplomats have said drones have helped peacekeepers track armed groups in the dense landscape of eastern Congo.
It is also planning on using drones for its peacekeeping mission in Mali.
Some countries, including Russia, China and Rwanda, have previously expressed reservations about the use of drones by the United Nations.
Western diplomats say that U.N. contracts with Russian firms providing helicopters and airplanes for peacekeeping missions could eventually be in jeopardy if the world body switches to drones for most of its aerial reconnaissance capabilities.
Russia’s U.N. mission did not have an immediate response to a query about the panel’s recommendation regarding drones.
Lute noted that the panel had also recommended heightened cyber security measures at peacekeeping missions, as well as the increased use of “green” technology.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Andrew Hay