No Black Helicopters, but the U.N. Does Now Have White Drones

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Dec. 9 2013 1:54 PM

U.N. to Deploy Peacekeeping Drones to Congo

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An Italian-made surveillance drone belonging to the U.N.'s MONUSCO peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo waits to take off in the northeastern city of Goma, on Dec. 3, 2013.

Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon’s publicity stunt may have gotten all the attention, but last week’s real drone milestone was the announcement that U.N. troops have begun using unmanned aircraft for the first time:

The aircraft will be used to look out for threats from a host of local and foreign armed groups in the mineral rich east where Congo and U.N. experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda of sending arms and troops to back the recently-defeated M23 rebels, something both countries deny.
"The drones ... will allow us to have reliable information about the movement of populations in the areas where there are armed groups," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said at the launch of the drones in Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.
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Interesting, the aircraft will be piloted not by peacekeepers but by staff from a division of Italian defense group Finmeccanica, which made the drones.

We’re likely to see more of this in the future. The Ivory Coast government, for instance, has requested that drones be deployed to replace U.N. peacekeepers, who are reducing their numbers in the country. Drones delivering humanitarian aid have also been test-piloted in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  

As far as U.N. missions go, drones would seem to have advantages in reaching remote conflict areas, though as a recent article in the journal Stability noted, the intimidating image unmanned aircraft have gained through their use in controversial counterterrorism operations may provoke mistrust in the country’s where they are deployed. The Congo mission could serve as something of a trial run for drone peacekeeping. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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