Ground the Drones?

The Real Problem With Unmanned Aircraft

A small drone helicopter operated by a paparazzo flies behind the American flag.
A small drone helicopter operated by a paparazzo flies behind the American flag. (Carlo Allegri / Courtesy Reuters)

Recent efforts to ban armed drones have conflated technical questions with policy ones. One prominent coalition of activist groups has emphasized that targeted killings are a violation of international law. They conclude that the United States should ban drones, which, in their argument, are vehicles for the bad policy. But arguments that exonerate drones go too far in the opposite direction. Other scholars maintain that the real problem is the policy of targeted killings and that drones, in and of themselves, are nonissues. Both of these camps sidestep how the technology informs policy.

The policy and the technology should not be confused, nor can they be separated, because drones circumvent the domestic, operational, and diplomatic constraints that are imposed on their manned counterparts and, therefore, make otherwise unviable policies viable. 

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