Futureproofing Drones

Setting the Right Standards for Aerial Warfare

A man walks past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by U.S. drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa November 13, 2014. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

The revelation in April that the United States had inadvertently killed U.S. and Italian aid workers during a drone strike on an al Qaeda facility in Pakistan has renewed questions about the legality and effectiveness of using drones for counterterrorism. U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged and apologized for the error, but he continued to defend drones as an effective tool against al Qaeda. Though many applauded Obama for his candor, he revealed little about the nature of the strike—whether it was known that there were civilians within the compound, whether the military had anticipated collateral damage, and whether the United States pursued a signature strike based on behavioral patterns rather than on hard intelligence on the intended targets. 

The topic of drone strikes is as divisive as it was when the policy was first introduced in 2012. Defenders, who note that drones have killed more than 3,000 insurgents in

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