More than half of the British public would support the UK Government helping in a drone missile strike if it was to target a known terrorist, new research has shown.
But people are far less supportive if innocent people are likely to be injured, according to a new joint study from the University of Surrey's Centre for International Intervention (cii) and defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), carried out in collaboration with YouGov.
The new findings feature in a joint cii/RUSI Whitehall report - Hitting the Target? How New Capabilities are Shaping International Intervention - which looks at the debate on drones, and how much is known or understand about them by the public.
The YouGov study examined to what extent the British public support or oppose the UK Government assisting in a drone strike and gathered information from six separate surveys between February 27 and March 8, including a nationally representative poll of 1,966 British adults and several survey experiments looking at different scenarios, involving at least 700 respondents in each case.
In each case, respondents were first shown the text: "It was recently reported that the UK Government might be passing information to US authorities to help them carry out missile strikes from unmanned aircraft called 'drones' to kill known terrorists overseas in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia."
The study found that 55% of respondents would support the UK Government helping in a drone strike to kill a known terrorist overseas, with that support rising to 67% if it could be guaranteed that no innocent civilians would be killed.
But support dropped steadily as the risk to civilians got higher - falling to just 43% if two or three innocent people might be killed, with opposition from 41%. If it was "likely that 10-15 innocent civilians might be killed", support dropped to 32%, with opposition rising to 46%, the study found.
YouGov academic director Dr Joel Faulkner Rogers, whose research is published in Hitting the Target? said: "The British public are clearly divided on whether the current use of drones is ultimately doing more harm or good to Western security.
"But there's also a distinction between attitudes to the weapon and the way it's used, which go beyond binary moral judgements about 'drones good' or 'drones bad'.
"The findings show notable public concern that drones could make foreign intervention too easy. But a majority of Brits also support the policy, at least in principle, of targeted drone strikes against known terrorists, with many who support a view that drones can help to reduce, as well as cause, casualties if military action is required."